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Zelensky adviser demands 60 fighter jets from West

Ukraine needs scores of F-16s to counter Russia’s “absolute advantage” on the battlefield, Mikhail Podoliak said

Ukraine needs at least 60 Western fighter jets to hold back advancing Russian forces, Vladimir Zelensky’s most senior adviser, Mikhail Podoliak, has declared. Zelensky has repeatedly criticized his Western patrons for not handing the jets over fast enough.

Russian forces launched a cross-border offensive into Ukraine’s Kharkov Region earlier this month, seizing dozens of towns and villages and forcing the Ukrainian military out of strongholds previously used as bases to shell Russian territory from. According to Podoliak, this operation has added 70 kilometers to the 1,200 kilometer frontline separating Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Between 100 and 120 fighter jets would be “optimal” to cover the entire front, Podoliak told Bloomberg on Wednesday. However, he claimed that 60 would be sufficient.

“At the moment, Russian troops have the absolute advantage in shells, missiles, etc,” he told the American outlet. “They will try to press along the frontline to advance. And then they may try to force the pro-Ukrainian coalition to accept unacceptable terms.”

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Belgium's PM Alexander De Croo, Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky and Belgium's Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder meet with Belgian F-16 pilots.
Belgium promises F-16 jets to Ukraine

Since the beginning of the conflict in 2022, Ukrainian officials have begged Western powers for fighter jets to supplement the country’s aging Soviet-era fleet. Citing Russia’s airpower advantage, Zelensky told Reuters last week that “we need at least 120, 130 planes to resist in the sky.”

Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway have all pledged to supply Ukraine with US-made F-16 fighters, although none have actually been delivered. Earlier this week, Zelensky announced that Belgium would supply 30 1980s-built F-16s, bringing to 85 the number pledged in total.

Ukraine will not receive all of these jets at once. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Tuesday that his country “will be able to provide first aircraft before the end of this year, 2024,” while the rest of the 85 jets – many needing substantial repairs and refitting – will arrive in the coming years, according to media reports.

Ukrainian pilots are currently training on F-16s in Romania, where a NATO-backed flight school for this purpose was opened late last year.

According to the most recent figures from the Russian Defense Ministry, Ukraine has lost 605 aircraft since the start of the conflict, a number that includes jets, helicopters, and other crewed vehicles. It is unclear how many operational aircraft the Ukrainian military has at present.

READ MORE: Ukraine likely exaggerating military successes – Forbes

Russia has repeatedly warned the West that the supply of F-16s to Ukraine “carries enormous risks,” particularly if the jets fly sorties from NATO soil. “If they are used from airfields of third countries, they become a legitimate target for us, no matter where they are located,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters in March.

Furthermore, “these efforts [to supply Ukraine with jets] are completely useless and meaningless,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated last year. “Our capabilities are such that all the goals of the special military operation will certainly be achieved,” he added.

May 29, 2024 at 10:03PM

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