European Union member states have begun training Ukrainian pilots to fly the U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets following the United States’ accord to allow allies to re-export the planes.
“I am glad that in several countries, such as Poland, the training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets has finally started, a process that will take time, but the sooner it starts the better because it will pave the way for the Ukrainian forces to get the fighter jets they need for their defense,” said Josep Borrell, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, on Tuesday in Brussels, after a meeting of EU defense ministers.
Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren told the meeting that Kyiv’s Western European backers wanted to start training as soon as possible and speed up the process after the United States gave its approval.
She said, the training, which will help boost combat readiness, is the first step towards bringing advanced Western fighters to Ukraine, but the issue is not yet on the agenda.
The Netherlands and Norway are the most obvious candidates to supply Ukraine with F-16s, as both countries plan to retire them in favor of the more modern F-35, and Belgium could also go down the same path.
Poland, whose air force also has F-16s, is not prepared to do so, but it did provide Ukraine with Soviet-made MiG-29s.
In the meantime, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has criticized Hungary for blocking further military aid to Ukraine.
“I am disappointed and irritated by the behavior of our Hungarian friends,” he said.
Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó pointed out that €5.7 billion from the European Peace Facility (EPF) had already been used to finance arms shipments to Ukraine and that while Hungary believes this poses an escalation threat, the government has so far not blocked the payments.
However, the foreign minister made it clear that he would oppose the new tranche until Ukraine removed OTP Bank, which is not in violation of any international law, from the list of international sponsors of the war.