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Ukraine says it won’t be able to deploy F16 jets against Russia this year

An F16 Fighting Falcon  (US AIR FORCE/AFP via Getty Image)
An F16 Fighting Falcon (US AIR FORCE/AFP via Getty Image)

Ukraine on Thursday claimed gains in its counter-offensive against Vladimir Putin’s invading forces but complained that it would not be able to deploy Western F16 jets this year.

Kyiv’s military said it had made inroads to the south of Urozhaine, a village in Donetsk region that Ukraine says it has retaken as it tries to mount a broader push into Russian-occupied areas towards the Sea of Azov.

“In the direction south of Urozhaine Ukrainian troops had success,” military spokesman Andriy Kovaliov said on national television.

Urozhaine was the first village retaken by Ukraine since July 27 — a gap that Kyiv said underlined the challenge of advancing through heavily-mined Russian defensive lines without more powerful air support.

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US president Joe Biden has approved training programmes for Ukrainian pilots to fly F16s, but there is no time frame for Nato countries to supply the fighter-bombers to Kyiv. The Royal Air Force does not use the model.

“It’s already obvious we won’t be able to defend Ukraine with F16 fighter jets during this autumn and winter,” Ukrainian air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat said. “We had big hopes for this plane, that it will become part of air defences that are able to protect us from Russia’s missiles and drones terrorism.”

Ukraine was also infuriated by a suggestion from Stian Jenssen, an aide to Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, that the war-torn country could give up territory in exchange for membership of the alliance and an end to the war.

Mr Jenssen apologised on Wednesday. “My statement about this was part of a larger discussion about possible future scenarios in Ukraine, and I shouldn’t have said it that way. It was a mistake,” he said.

It came as a civilian cargo vessel left Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa despite warnings from Russia that its navy could target ships using the Black Sea export hubs. The announcement raised the spectre of an encounter with Russian warships after Moscow pulled out of a key deal last month brokered by the UN and Turkey, which guaranteed safe passage for vital grain shipments from three Ukrainian ports.

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said the Hong Kong-flagged Joseph Schulte left yesterday morning and was due to reach Istanbul on Thursday evening.

The vessel had been trapped in Odesa since Putin launched his invasion in 2022. Kyiv wants a “humanitarian corridor” in the Black Sea but Moscow refuses to say if it will respect the plan.