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Denmark and the Netherlands get US approval to give F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine

FILE - A Romanian Air Force F- 16s military fighter jet, left, and a Portuguese Air Force F- 16s military fighter jets participating in NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission operate over the Baltic Sea, Lithuanian airspace, on May 22, 2023. The United States has given its approval for the Netherlands to deliver F-16s to Ukraine, the Dutch defense minister said Friday, Aug. 18, 2023 in a major gain for Kyiv even though the fighter jets won’t have an immediate impact on the almost 18-month war. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The United States has given its approval for the Netherlands and Denmark to deliver F-16s to Ukraine, the defense ministers of those two NATO countries said Friday, in a major gain for Kyiv even though the fighter jets won’t have an impact any time soon on the almost 18-month war.

It was not immediately clear when the first F-16s might enter the conflict.

Ukraine has long pleaded for the sophisticated fighter to give it a combat edge. It recently launched a long-anticipated counteroffensive against the Kremlin’s forces without air cover, placing its troops at the mercy of Russian aviation and artillery.

Danish Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said he was “very, very happy” about the development, noting that Denmark would hand over some of its F-16s only after receiving its new F-35 jet fighters.

The first four F-35s are due to be delivered on Oct. 1.

The training of Ukrainian pilots is starting this month, Ellemann-Jensen added, but he declined to elaborate.

Officials have previously said that Ukrainian pilots will need six to eight months of training.

Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said the Netherlands is working on the next steps with other European Union countries.

Washington’s blessing for the plane donations is needed because the aircraft are made in the United States. Ukraine’s Western allies have at times moved slowly on granting Kyiv the military support it has requested.

Though delivery is likely months away, Washington says the F-16s — like the advanced U.S. Abrams tanks — will be crucial in the long term as Kyiv faces down Russia.

Ukraine has been relying on older aircraft, such as Russian-made MiG29 and Sukhoi jets. F-16s have newer technology and targeting capabilities. They are also more versatile, experts say.

A coalition of 11 Western countries — the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom — pledged in July to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.

Meanwhile, Russian air defenses stopped drone attacks on central Moscow and on the country’s ships in the Black Sea, officials said Friday, blaming the attempted strikes on Ukraine.

Defense systems shot down a Ukrainian drone over central Moscow early Friday and some fragments fell on an exhibition center, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.

It said the drone was shot down about 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) and there were no injuries or fire caused by the fragments.

However, flights were briefly suspended at all four major Moscow airports.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said some of the fragments fell on the grounds of the Expocentre, an exhibition complex adjacent to the Moscow City commercial and office complex that was hit twice by drones in the past month.

The area is about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) west of the Kremlin. The defense ministry called the latest incident “another terrorist attack by the Kyiv regime.”

Naval forces also destroyed a Ukrainian sea drone that attempted an attack on Russian ships late Thursday in the Black Sea, about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Sevastopol, the ministry said

The drone was taken out by fire from a patrol boat and a corvette, it said.

It was not possible to verify the claims.

Also Friday, a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship that this week set sail along a Black Sea temporary corridor established by Ukraine for merchant shipping safely reached the coast of Istanbul on Friday.

The voyage was closely watched to see whether the Russian navy would allow the Joseph Schulte container vessel to pass unmolested.

Tensions over maritime traffic in the Black Sea spiked after Moscow broke off a key wartime shipping agreement for grain exports.

The ship had been stranded at the Black Sea port of Odesa since Russia’s invasion.


Jim Heintz contributed from Tallinn, Estonia.