Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he is concerned about the delay in the schedule for training Ukrainian pilots to fly Western F-16 fighter jets — urgently needed by Ukraine as it fights to eject Russian invaders from its territory.
The Ukrainian leader was speaking during a joint press conference with visiting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Kyiv on July 1, answering questions about the schedule of F-16 deliveries to Ukraine.
"I have the same questions as you do for our esteemed partners," Zelenskyy said.
“Ukraine can get the F-16s. We have agreed, we have pressed, and we have a coalition of countries that are ready to start training for Ukrainian pilots. (But) there is no schedule for training missions, and they’re delaying it. I don’t know why they’re doing this.”
Fighter jet coalition — When will Ukraine receive F-16s?
In May, Western partners started talking about forming a coalition to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, which Kyiv had long been asking for.
The first step is to train Ukrainian pilots. On May 19, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that his country, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark had agreed to participate in training Ukrainian pilots on Western fighter jets.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Ukraine's allies will individually determine when to start training Ukrainian pilots on the F-16.
The United Kingdom, in particular, promised to start training this summer. Foreign Policy wrote that the country would train about 20 Ukrainian pilots. The media reported that Denmark might start training in August. In June, the Netherlands expressed its readiness to start training in a few months.
As of June 27, the Ukrainian Air Force said that Ukrainian training on the F-16 had not yet started.
Similarly, it has not yet been announced when and how many fighter jets Ukraine will receive.
The White House said the allies will determine in the coming months when Ukraine will receive fighter aircraft, from whom, and how many.
On June 21, Zelenskyy said Ukraine could receive the first F-16s in six to seven months.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the F-16s would not arrive before the New Year, although the Defense Ministry had previously hoped they would come this fall.
U.S. news website Politico has reported that Ukraine may not receive its first F-16 fighter jets until early 2024.
Ukraine has been requesting modern fighter jets since the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion and war, which started on Feb. 24, 2022.
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