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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Russia strikes Ukrainian airfields set to house Western-supplied jets – MOD

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Russian forces have struck Ukrainian airbases that were set to house Western-supplied fighter jets, including US-designed F-16s, the Defense Ministry in Moscow has reported.

The Russian military launched a group strike on Thursday morning, employing long-range sea-based weapons, the Kinzhal hypersonic missile, and unmanned aerial vehicles to attack the “airfield infrastructure of Ukraine, planned to accommodate aircraft from Western countries,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The goal of the strike has been achieved. All designated targets have been hit,” it added, without specifying the number or location of the airfields that were struck.

The report comes as Kiev’s Western backers, including the US, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands, have pledged to provide Ukraine with as many as 60 F-16s by the end of the year. However, none of the jets have yet been supplied.

Deliveries have apparently been held up because Ukrainian pilots are still only learning to operate the jets. Once they have completed their training by the end of the year, there will still only be a “handful” of pilots, according to recent media reports, which have also noted that Ukraine doesn’t have enough maintenance crews to service the jets.

Given that Kiev would not have sufficient pilots to operate all 60 of the donated F-16s, the chief of aviation of Ukraine’s Air Force Command, Sergey Golubtsov, suggested earlier this month that some of the jets could be stationed at bases in neighboring NATO countries.

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However, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan emphasized last week that the plan is “to put the F-16s in Ukraine,” stressing that under a recently signed ten-year security agreement between Washington and Kiev, the warplanes would have to be based in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Moscow has repeatedly warned that any Western weapons delivered to Ukraine will be considered “legitimate targets” for strikes by Russian forces, including foreign-supplied fighter jets and the bases that house them.

Russian State Duma Defense Committee chairman Andrey Kartapolov has also stressed that if any Western-supplied F-16s are used by Kiev in combat operations while stationed at NATO airfields, then these facilities would also become legitimate targets for Moscow.

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