COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Danish lawmakers Monday for helping his country resist Russia’s invasion, a day after Denmark and the Netherlands announced they will provide Kyiv with F-16 warplanes that could be delivered around the end of the year.
Zelenskyy told the lawmakers during a visit to Copenhagen that if Russia’s invasion is successful, other parts of Europe would be at risk from the Kremlin’s military aggression.
“All of Russia’s neighbors are under threat if Ukraine does not prevail,” he said in a speech before heading to Greece, the fourth European country he is visiting in three days, for talks with the government.
Zelenskyy says Ukraine is defending Western values of freedom and democracy against tyranny. He has argued that Ukraine needs to be properly provisioned to fend off Russia’s much bigger force.
Ukraine has been pressing its Western allies for months to give it American-made F-16s. Its armed forces are still using aging Soviet-era combat planes from the 1970s and ’80s, and its counteroffensive against Russian positions is advancing without air support, which analysts say is a major handicap.
In downtown Kyiv on Monday, people welcomed the news about F-16s though they also expressed frustration that the decision hadn’t been taken sooner.
“Finally,” said 33-year-old Larysa Shymko, who is from a Russia-occupied rea of the southern Kherson region. “I think every Ukrainian has been waiting for this for a long time.”
Yurii Lymar, a 38-year-old lawyer, said Ukraine’s Western allies “could approve such decisions a little faster, because every day in this … war means lots of Ukrainian people dying.”
Zelenskyy said on Telegram that Ukraine would get 42 jets. Denmark pledged 19 F-16s, which could be delivered around the end of the year when pilot training lasting four to six months is completed.
However, getting Ukrainian squadrons battle-ready could take much longer.
U.S. Air Force Gen. James Hecker, commander of U.S. air forces in Europe and Africa, said last week that he did not expect the F-16s to be a game-changer for Ukraine. Getting F-16 squadrons ready for battle could take “four or five years,” he said.
While some training has already begun for Ukrainian pilots, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Sunday it’s just language lessons so far.
Training Ukrainian pilots is just one of the challenges in the anticipated deployment of F-16s. Questions also remain over who will carry out crucial aircraft maintenance, the supply of spare parts, runway maintenance and protective shelters for the planes on the ground, and what weapons the West will supply to arm the fighter jets.
Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said the F-16s will help Ukraine “change the course of events” in the war.
“Air superiority is the key to success on the ground,” he said in televised remarks.
Denmark rolled out the red carpet for Zelenskyy’s trip to Copenhagen. The Ukrainian leader also met at the Christiansborg Palace, the building housing the Danish parliament, with Denmark’s 83-year-old figurehead monarch, Queen Margrethe, who returned from vacation for the occasion.
Afterward, he spoke from the parliament steps to thousands of cheering people who waved Danish and Ukrainian flags in the palace’s courtyard.
The United States last week announced its approval for the Netherlands and Denmark to deliver the F-16s. That is needed because the aircraft are made in the United States.
On Sunday, Zelenskyy visited the Netherlands and inspected two gray F-16s parked in a hangar at a Dutch base in the southern city of Eindhoven together with Rutte.