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Stoltenberg on F-16: Ukraine has right to self-defense, including hitting targets outside the country

Regarding Ukraine’s future use of the F-16 jets, NATO chief Stoltenberg says Ukraine has the right to self-defense, including striking legitimate Russian military targets outside its borders.
An F-16 wing. File photo: Turkish Air Force
Stoltenberg on F-16: Ukraine has right to self-defense, including hitting targets outside the country

In an interview with RFE/RL, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that Ukrainian pilots of F-16 multirole fighter jets would have the right to strike legitimate military targets outside Ukraine, i.e. on Russian territory. 

Ukraine seeks F-16 fighter jets to counter Russia’s air superiority at the frontline, where Russian aircraft maintain an edge with longer-range capabilities despite Ukraine’s dense air defenses. The United States approved the transfer of F-16s from Denmark and the Netherlands last August, pending completion of pilot training. Training of Ukrainian pilots and ground personnel is ongoing, and Ukraine has yet to operate any F-16s. According to CNN sources, the first four Ukrainian pilots are expected to complete their training by summer.

Asked when Ukraine will be able to deploy the US-made F-16 fighter jets, Stoltenberg stated that was not possible to say, reiterating that Ukraine’s allies “all want them to be there as early as possible.” Stoltenberg, however, emphasized that the impact of the F-16s on the battlefield would be greater if pilots are well-trained and maintenance crews and other support personnel are well-prepared.

“So, I think we have to listen to the military experts exactly when we will be ready to or when allies will be ready to start sending and delivering the F-16s,” he told RFE/RL. “The sooner the better.”

Stoltenberg stated that the decision to deliver F-16s to Ukraine is up to individual allies, who have varying policies, but emphasized that Ukraine has the right to self-defense in the war of aggression, including striking legitimate Russian military targets outside its borders.

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