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First F-16s expected to arrive in Ukraine this summer, Dutch Defense Minister says

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kyiv — Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren says Ukraine should receive its first F-16 combat aircraft this summer, as Europe struggles to help kyiv amid complications caused by an aid package blocked in the US Congress.

Ollongren told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service during a visit to kyiv on March 21 that a plan to deliver 24 F-16 jets was on track, with the first plane coming from Denmark.

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“I think we are on track to see deliveries, first from Denmark this summer, and then we will intensify our efforts,” she said while declining to give the exact number of planes involved in the first delivery.

“We know we’re going to start with the Danish F-16s, that’s now in our planning and in the Ukrainian planning. And at the end of the day, I mean, it doesn’t matter anymore. That it s “It’s a Dutch, Danish or Norwegian F-16. -16 because (the planes) will be Ukrainian.”

The arrival of the fighter jets will be a much-anticipated development to help Kyiv fill a crucial gap in its defense capabilities.

Russia has used its more advanced and numerous jets to repeatedly bomb Ukrainian cities, slowing its counteroffensive and threatening its ships exporting grain essential to its economic survival, making Kiev acquire planes modern Americans a key ingredient to its successful defense of the country.

Ukraine inherited an aging fleet of Soviet MiG and Sukhoi aircraft that lack the strike depth and technology of modern Russian aircraft, putting kyiv at a significant disadvantage in the war. Ukraine also has a much smaller fleet than Russia.

The more advanced F-16s would allow Ukrainian pilots to strike deep into Russian-controlled areas and, with great precision, intercept missiles that have terrorized Ukrainian cities and confront Russian aircraft that threaten its navigation routes.

Ollongren said the key to jet efficiency will be training pilots and technical staff to ensure they operate at peak performance.

“There’s no point if you don’t know how to use them most effectively, and that requires training and that requires the right people for maintenance and the right infrastructure. So when you get them, you know you’ll be able to (use them),” she said.

“So once… Ukraine receives the F-16s, everything will have to be in place, including, of course, how to protect them.”

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the country has enjoyed support from the United States, the European Union and other Western allies.

But a new $60 billion aid package for Ukraine has stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives as Republican lawmakers demand sweeping changes to the nation’s immigration policy.

While funding from Washington is currently closed, the European Union has decided to increase its aid.

Earlier this week, the European Council approved the creation of the Ukraine Assistance Fund (UAF) and earmarked €5 billion ($5.4 billion) for it to be used for the provision of ” lethal and non-lethal military equipment and training.

Ollongren said the U.S. delay in providing new aid is “a little frustrating,” but given the threat Russian aggression poses to Europe, the 27-member E.U. country, will continue to push for increased aid levels.

“We are working to increase production levels… For Ukraine, it is an existential threat. But for Europe, it is also an existential threat. So it is in our interest” to continue aid in kyiv, she said.

“It is also in America’s best interest to maintain this support, scale it up and do more,” she added.

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