Russia says F-16 transfer to Ukraine would raise NATO question

Latest Russian warning comes after US President Joe Biden agreed to provide training to Ukrainian pilots on fighter jets.

A US F-16 preparing for a mid-flight refuelling. Clouds and the land are visible beneath the plane.
A US Air Force F-16 fighter prepares for mid-air refuelling [File: Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

The transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine would raise the question of NATO’s involvement in the conflict, Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov has said.

“There is no infrastructure for the operation of the F-16 in Ukraine and the needed number of pilots and maintenance personnel is not there either,” Antonov said in remarks published on the embassy’s Telegram messaging channel on Monday.

“What will happen if the American fighters take off from NATO airfields, controlled by foreign ‘volunteers’?”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has for months been calling on the country’s Western allies to supply advanced fighter jets amid concerns such a move would be met with an escalation by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But amid a flurry of diplomacy by Zelenskyy ahead of the just-concluded G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced last week they had agreed to build an “international coalition” to provide fighter jet support for Ukraine.

Then on Friday, US President Joe Biden endorsed training programmes for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, with Zelenskyy assuring Biden that the aircraft would not be used to go into Russian territory.

Over the weekend, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko warned Western countries would be running “colossal risks” if they went ahead with the supply of the F-16s.

Antonov said that any Ukrainian attack on Crimea, which Moscow invaded and annexed in 2014, would be considered an attack on Russia.

“It is important that the United States be fully aware of the Russian response,” Antonov said.

The international community does not recognise Russian sovereignty over Crimea.

Air defence experts say US-built F-16 fighter jets would offer Ukraine an edge over the Russian air force, but only if combined with powerful missiles and targeting information, which the West would also have to provide and which would risk drawing Ukraine’s Western allies more actively into the war.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters