Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Danish lawmakers on Monday for helping his country resist Russia’s invasion, a day after Denmark and the Netherlands announced they will provide Kyiv with American-made F-16 warplanes that could be delivered around the end of the year.
Zelenskyy told the lawmakers in Copenhagen that if Russia’s invasion is successful, other parts of Europe would be at risk from the Kremlin’s military aggression.
“All of Russia’s neighbors are under threat if Ukraine does not prevail,” he said in a speech.
Zelenskyy portrays Ukraine as defending Western values of freedom and democracy against tyranny. He has argued that Ukraine needs to be properly provisioned to fend off Russia’s much bigger force.
Ukraine has been pressing its Western allies for months to give it F-16s. Its armed forces are still using aging Soviet-era combat planes from the 1970s and ’80s, and its counteroffensive against Russian positions is advancing without air support, which analysts say is a major handicap.
Zelenskyy said on Telegram that Ukraine would get 42 jets. Denmark pledged 19 F-16s, which could be delivered around the end of the year when pilot training lasting four to six months is completed.
However, getting Ukrainian squadrons battle-ready could take much longer.
U.S. Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. air forces in Europe and Africa, said last week that he did not expect the F-16s to be a game-changer for Ukraine. Getting F-16 squadrons ready for battle could take “four or five years,” he said.
While some training has already begun for Ukrainian pilots, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Sunday it’s just language lessons so far.
Training Ukrainian pilots is just one of the challenges in the anticipated deployment of F-16s. Questions also remain over who will carry out crucial aircraft maintenance, the supply of spare parts, runway maintenance and protective shelters for the planes on the ground, and what weapons the West will supply to arm the fighter jets.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said the F-16s will help Ukraine “change the course of events” in the war.
“Air superiority is the key to success on the ground,” he said in televised remarks.
Denmark rolled out the red carpet for Zelenskyy’s trip to Copenhagen. He also met at the Christiansborg Palace, the building housing the Danish parliament, with Denmark’s 83-year-old figurehead monarch, Queen Margrethe, who returned from vacation for the occasion. Afterward, he addressed the crowds gathered outside from the parliament steps.
The United States last week announced its approval for the Netherlands and Denmark to deliver the F-16s. That is needed because the aircraft are made in the United States.
On Sunday, Zelenskyy visited the Netherlands and inspected two gray F-16s parked in a hangar at a Dutch base in the southern city of Eindhoven together with Rutte.
Rutte didn’t provide a number or timeframe for deliveries, saying it depends on how soon Ukrainian crews and infrastructure are ready.