The Netherlands and Denmark said Sunday that they would donate F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine — the first countries to do so — in what President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said was a breakthrough in his nation’s quest to acquire the aircraft considered imperative in the war against Russia.
The acquisition of American-made F-16’s to supplement a fleet of Soviet-era jets has been a priority for Mr. Zelensky’s government for months as it seeks advantage over Russia’s air force and also to improve its own air defenses. Ukrainian officials acknowledged last week, however, that NATO countries would not donate the planes before next year, which is too late for use in a counteroffensive the government in Kyiv launched this summer.
President Biden, setting aside months of resistance, said in May that NATO countries could train Ukrainian pilots on F-16’s, and on Thursday a U.S. official said that the United States would allow allies to send the jets.
Speaking during a visit to the Netherlands, Mr. Zelensky said that the Netherlands would donate 42 jets once Ukrainian pilots and engineers had been trained.
“A breakthrough agreement. From today, there are already specifics. They will be in the Ukrainian sky. Thank you, Netherlands,” he said on the Telegram social messaging app. “The planes we will use to keep Russian terrorists away from Ukrainian cities and villages.”
He posted a selfie taken with Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands standing in front of one of the jets but gave few specifics about the next step in the process. In what appeared to be a coordinated move, Denmark’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that it, too, would donate F-16’s to Ukraine.
F-16’s would enhance the country’s ground-launched air defenses, which are used to fight off Russian missile attacks and could also act as a deterrent to Moscow in the longer term because they could erase its aerial superiority.