Putin issues F-16 warning to Ukraine sponsors

If Ukrainian-operated jets fly sorties from third countries, they will be a legitimate target for Russia

Should the US-made fighter jets make it to Ukraine, Russia will destroy them just as it has other Western equipment so far, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.

Several NATO members have promised to donate their F-16s to Kiev and have trained Ukrainian pilots to fly them, but no deliveries have been made as of yet. Russia has repeatedly warned the West that fielding the nuclear-capable jets will be an unacceptable escalation of the Ukraine conflict.

“If they deliver the F-16s, I think you know better than others that this will not change the situation on the battlefield,” the president said. “And we will destroy these planes just as we have destroyed tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, including multiple launch rocket systems.”

The comments came during Putin’s visit to the Torzhok Air Base in Tver Region, home of the 344th Training Center for Russian combat pilots, including personnel being trained to take part in the Ukraine conflict.

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In case the F-16s flown by Ukrainian pilots end up getting based in third countries, they will be legitimate targets for Russian aviation, Putin added.

“Of course, if they are used from airfields of third countries, they become a legitimate target for us, wherever they are located,” the Russian president stated.

Russia is well aware that the 1970s jet can potentially carry nuclear weapons, and this will be taken into account in combat operations, he noted.

Kiev has lost much of its air force over the past two years, including the Soviet-era jets donated by several NATO members as replacements. The Ukrainian government eventually asked the US-led bloc for the F-16s.

READ MORE: NATO states will break F-16 pledge to Ukraine – NYT

The single-engine fighter is a late 1970s design, originally manufactured by General Dynamics before it was acquired by Lockheed Martin. It requires pristine runways, which are in short supply in Ukraine, prompting speculation that Ukrainian-operated jets might be stationed in nearby NATO countries instead. 

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