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Ukraine war latest: Kyiv to receive 61 F-16 fighter jets, with first aircraft set to arrive in 2023

by Alexander Khrebet August 20, 2023 11:50 PM 6 min read
President Volodymyr Zelensky and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen inside an F-16 fighter jet at the Skrydstrup airbase in Denmark on Aug. 20. (Photo: President's Office)
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Editor's note: The original version of this article mistakenly wrote that Ukraine was set to receive 42 fighter jets, when the total is in fact 61 — 42 from the Netherlands and 19 from Denmark, wtih the first set to arrive this year from Danish stockpiles.

Key developments on Aug. 20:

  • Zelensky says Ukraine to receive 42 U.S.-built fighter jets from the Netherlands
  • Denmark pledges delivery of 19 F-16s to Ukraine
  • Zelensky rules out territorial concessions to Russia
  • Official: 156 injured in Russian Aug. 19 missile strike on Chernihiv
  • Russian governor claims 12 drones downed in border region

Three months after U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to allow NATO allies to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Aug. 20 that Ukraine would receive 42 aircraft from the Netherlands and another 19 from Denmark, the first set to arrive by the end of 2023.

Zelensky over the weekend toured three European countries to discuss jet delivery pledges to Ukraine with their top officials.

The trip started on Aug. 19 in Sweden, where Zelensky said Ukrainian pilots had begun test flights on Swedish Gripen fighter jets. Sweden has previously said it would allow Ukrainian pilots to train on its Gripen jets, but has so far stopped short of pledging the aircraft itself.

Visiting the Netherlands on Aug. 20, Zelensky met with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Royal Netherlands Air Force Chief Andre Steur at an airbase in Eindhoven.

Rutte announced at a joint press conference that the Netherlands and Denmark would provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets once conditions for the transfer have been met.

"Today we can announce that the Netherlands and Denmark commit to transferring F-16 aircraft to Ukraine and the Ukrainian Air Force," he said in one of the airbase hangars.

Rutte added that he wanted the training for F-16 jets and their delivery to Ukraine to take place as soon as possible.

He didn't specify the number of aircraft, but earlier that day, Zelensky said in Telegram posts that Ukraine would receive 42 F-16s in a “breakthrough agreement.”

The Netherlands Air Force has a total of 42 F-16s, but is transitioning to modern F-35 fighters.

The Danish Defense Ministry also confirmed on Aug. 20 its commitment to delivering F-16s to Ukraine.

Conditions for the transfer include but are not limited to successfully selecting, testing, and training of Ukrainian F-16 personnel and the necessary authorizations, infrastructure, and logistics, according to the ministry.

During Zelensky’s visit to Denmark on the same day, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen pledged 19 F-16s, announcing that the first six aircraft would be delivered to Ukraine by the end of this year.

She also said that Ukraine would receive eight other aircraft from Denmark to Ukraine in 2024, and five more in 2025.

Denmark will also train Ukrainian pilots, and engineers of the fighter jets. Romania is also set to host training sessions for Ukrainian pilots.

The Netherlands and Denmark have spearheaded the international training coalition on F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine. Announced at the NATO summit in Vilnius, along with nine other allies, the coalition is set to ensure training of the Ukrainian Air Force in using F-16 fighter jets.

Both countries confirmed on Aug. 18 they had received approval from the U.S. to hand over F-16s from their arsenal to Ukraine after pilots and engineers were trained.

Kyiv has been lobbying for the delivery of F-16s to Ukraine since the spring of 2022 to counter Russia's air superiority.

The F-16's dominance over Soviet fighter jets used by both Ukrainian and Russian air forces lies in its advanced design and capabilities developed in the 1970s, allowing for enhanced performance, agility, and versatility in combat situations.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Aug. 19 that Ukrainian pilots, engineers, and technicians had already started a six-month training session for F-16s. The training was due to kick off in Denmark in late August, according to the Danish Defense Ministry.

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Zelensky rules out territorial concessions to Russia

Ukraine will not consider giving away part of the country's territory to Russia in some kind of "exchange” as a part of a potential peace deal, President Volodymyr Zelensky said at a joint press conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Aug. 20 in Eindhoven.

“We've indicated how we see peace (with Russia) and are ready for an open discussion,” said Zelensky, adding that a peace agreement is possible only if Ukraine fully restores its borders, including Donbas and Crimea.

Zelensky, as well as other top Ukrainian officials, reacted with indignation after Stian Jenssen, chief of staff of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, floated the idea of Ukraine giving up some of its occupied territories in exchange for NATO membership.

Jenssen, a high-ranking NATO official, walked back his public comments about Ukraine’s territorial concessions to Russia, the Norwegian newspaper VG reported on Aug. 16.

“It was a mistake,” Jenssen told VG, the same newspaper that reported on his comments the day before. “It was part of a larger discussion about possible future scenarios in Ukraine,” he clarified, “and I shouldn’t have said it that way.”

Russia has occupied around 20 percent of Ukraine, with some territories being occupied since 2014, including Crimea. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly said that the main goal is to liberate all Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories.

In addition, over 85 percent of Ukrainians are against territorial concessions, according to polls.

Some Western officials have devised elaborate plans to end the war, yet these propositions have failed to align with the goals of Kyiv or Moscow, the Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 20.

Behind closed doors, many Western officials doubt Ukraine's ability to solely determine the endgame, fearing that Ukraine's maximalist aspirations could perpetuate an endless war, according to the report.

Ukraine is “ready to exchange (Russia’s city of) Belgorod for our NATO membership,” Zelensky quipped at the joint press conference with the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Aug. 20.

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Russian Aug. 19 strike on Chernihiv kills 7, injures 156

Rescue operations have finished following Russia’s Aug. 19 ballistic missile strike on Chernihiv that left seven people killed and 156 injured, Deputy Head of President’s Office Oleksiy Kuleba reported on Aug. 20.

He also said that 41 people had been hospitalized.

The attack damaged 66 residential buildings, 10 administrative buildings, and 67 cars, according to Kuleba.

Russian forces targeted downtown Chernihiv in northern Ukraine on the morning of Aug. 19.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the missile strike impacted Chernihiv's central square, polytechnic institute, and theater.

"Here's what it means to be neighbors with a terrorist state, here's what we are uniting the entire world against," Zelensky said in a Telegram post on Aug. 19, the day when Christians in Ukraine celebrate one of the biggest Eastern Orthodox holidays – the Feast of the Transfiguration.

One of the photos from the scene shows a body with a traditional church basket next to it.

Following the attack, there were unconfirmed reports in Ukrainian media that the missile had targeted a site where Ukrainian drone producers were holding an exhibition.

The Kyiv Independent confirmed that an exhibition of drone producers was planned for Aug. 19 in Chernihiv, but the location was kept secret. The registered visitors were going to receive the address hours before the event.

In Russia

Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, claimed on Aug. 20 that Russian air defense had downed 12 drones approaching the regional capital.

Neither Gladkov nor Russian emergency services have reported on casualties or damage.

Meanwhile, the reported number of drones contradicts the Russian Defense Ministry's claim that air defense shot down three Ukrainian loitering munitions over the Belgorod region in an alleged two-wave attack on Aug. 20.

The Kyiv Independent couldn’t verify the claims.

The city of Belgorod is located less than 35 kilometers from Ukraine’s border.

Earlier that day, Roman Starovoit, governor of Russia's Kursk region, claimed that a Ukrainian drone had struck a Kursk railway station overnight on Aug. 20, injuring five people and causing a fire on its rooftop.

A video uploaded to a Russian Telegram channel shows a fire on the station's rooftop and emergency vehicles.

The Kursk region also borders Ukraine. Meanwhile, across the border in Sumy Oblast, Ukrainian settlements endure daily attacks from Russian forces.

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