Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomes Joe Biden backing plan to help Ukraine with fighter jets

19 May 2023, 19:31

Joe Biden has backed plans for jet pilots for Ukraine
Joe Biden has backed plans for jet pilots for Ukraine. Picture: Getty/Alamy

By Kit Heren

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has welcomed Joe Biden's "historic" decision to back a group of countries that will help train pilots on US-made F16 fighter jets.

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The Ukrainian president said the move by his US counterpart "will greatly enhance" his country's air force.

The decision came at the G7 meeting of the world's largest economies, which includes the UK.

It is unclear if this means that the US will be sending planes directly themselves, or simply training Ukrainian personnel.

A US official said the country and its allies would decide "when to actually provide jets, how many we will provide, and who will provide them".

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The US has backed plans to train jet pilots for Ukraine
The US has backed plans to train jet pilots for Ukraine. Picture: Alamy

Mr Zelenskyy said: "I welcome the historic decision of the United States... to support an international fighter jet coalition.

"This will greatly enhance our army in the sky.

"I count on discussing the practical implementation of this decision at the G7 summit in Hiroshima."

Kyiv has been lobbying for F16 jets for some time in a bid to ramp up its fightback against the Russian invaders.

But the provision of fighter jets has been controversial, with Western countries reluctant to provide the planes on the grounds that it could be too difficult to train pilots, or difficult to maintain the aircraft.

An F16 jet taking off
An F16 jet taking off. Picture: Alamy

Rishi Sunak has previously said the provision of warplanes was "not straightforward" but that Britain would play an integral role in a coalition of countries providing that support to Ukraine.

But the UK cannot send jets itself, defence secretary Ben Wallace said on Wednesday, and would not be sending RAF staff into an active warzone to maintain them.

"What we can obviously contribute is training and support within limits because we don't have F-16 pilots," Mr Wallace told reporters.

"We can do, what we've done throughout this ... which is we can enable other people who wish to," he added. "Any nation that comes to us and says we want to get tanks into Ukraine ... we will help with that process."

Armed Forces Minister says we need to prepare to support Ukraine in war for next few years

The defence secretary said some countries had sent some Soviet-era fighter planes. 

"If you are a Russian infanteer, I don't think you really care whether you are being bombed by a Soviet era plane or a Western plane, you just don't want to be bombed by it," he said.

It comes as the leaders of the G7 group vowed to "starve the Russian war machine" by stepping up sanctions, as part of efforts to hasten the end to the war in Ukraine.

Read more: UK won't be giving fighter jets to Ukraine because RAF won't risk staff in war zone

Read more: Ukraine can win the war with planes it already has, armed forces minister says, as he warns conflict will last for years

The war in Ukraine is top of the agenda at the summit, which is taking place in Hiroshima, where Mr Sunak joined Mr Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and the leaders of Japan, Germany, Italy, alongside EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

In a joint statement on Friday, they called Russia's invasion "illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked" and called for the Kremlin to "immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraws its troops and military equipment from the entire internationally recognised territory of Ukraine".

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