Russia: Giving F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine a ‘colossal risk’

Western countries ‘are still adhering to the escalation scenario’ that risks widening the Ukraine war in Europe, says deputy foreign minister.

Western countries will be running “colossal risks” if they supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, a Russian official says.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko was responding to a question on Saturday about the implications of providing the jets, which Ukraine has been requesting from NATO countries, the TASS news agency reported.

Ukraine has not yet won commitments to deliver the planes, but US President Joe Biden told G7 leaders on Friday that Washington supports joint allied training programmes for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, senior United States officials said.

“We see that Western countries are still adhering to the escalation scenario. It involves colossal risks for themselves,” Grushko was quoted as saying.

“In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the goals we have set.”

Alexandre Vautravers, editor-in-chief of the Swiss Military Review, said despite Russia’s warning Moscow was unlikely to escalate the situation.

“Every time a new weapon system has been given to Ukraine, we have heard a lot of rhetoric – but very little in the way of action from Russia,” he told Al Jazeera from Geneva. “I think the rhetoric today is not a sufficient deterrence.”

Vautravers added Kyiv is also facing important technical issues that needed to be addressed for the F-16 fighters.

“It is rapidly running out of air defence missiles, and it is necessary to plug in the holes of Ukraine’s air defence with these aircraft,” he said.

‘Necessary to improve’

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has for months called for the supply of advanced fighter jets to support Ukraine’s defences against Russia’s invasion.

But the Ukrainian leader had faced rejection until now from his Western allies who feared providing Ukraine with advanced offensive weapons could be met with an escalation by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the spread of the war in Europe.

Zelenskyy on Saturday thanked British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the G7 summit in Japan for his
support in forming a coalition to deliver Western fighter jets.

“It is necessary to improve [Ukraine’s] air defence capabilities, including the training of our pilots,” Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel.

The green light on F-16 training is the latest shift by the Biden administration as it moves to arm Ukraine with more advanced and lethal weaponry, following earlier decisions to send rocket launcher systems and Abrams tanks. The United States has insisted it is sending weapons to Ukraine to defend itself and has discouraged attacks by Ukraine into Russian territory.

Biden’s decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets will be made in the months ahead while pilot training is under way, he said.

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