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Russia-Ukraine Conflict: NATO balancing on the brink of war

Ukrainian servicemen fire with a tank towards Russian troops near a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine July 6, 2023. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy

Russia says the transfer of F-16 fighter jets from the armies of European countries to Ukraine could trigger World War III. Against the background of the arrival of the first batches of aircraft from Denmark and the Netherlands at Romanian airbases, Kiev and NATO are facing many questions about their operation, most of which have no good solution.

It is worth noting that Ukraine has so far suffered a number of serious defeats on the front line and lost almost all of its aircraft. since February 2022, Russian forces have systematically destroyed the enemy’s aircraft, its air defense system, as well as airbases, repair facilities, and weapons depots. In just a few months after the start of the conflict, Kyiv completely lost control over the skies and found itself not only unable to support its army from the air but also to cover key military, transport, and energy infrastructure.

Although Western countries have generously provided the Ukrainian army with weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, and various ammunition over the past decade, neither the United States nor European NATO members were in a hurry to transfer expensive military aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems to Vladimir Zelensky’s army. The reason for this imbalance in supply was both the financial pragmatism of the West and many other factors.

Firstly, in the context of the global confrontation between the North Atlantic bloc and Russia, China, and other countries of the Global South, neither the Americans nor the Europeans were ready to deprive their own air forces of combat capability by sending them to a guaranteed death by Russian missiles. Second, the Ukrainian army a decade ago, much less at present, has neither Western-trained pilots, nor qualified ground engineering personnel, nor modern airbases.

Nevertheless, as the fighting continues and Russia dominates the air, Washington and its NATO allies have decided to provide Vladimir Zelensky with symbolic assistance, which, however, is seen as having no particular relevance to the re-establishment of the Ukrainian Air Force. In 2023, the governments of Denmark and the Netherlands were the first European countries to announce their readiness to give Kiev several F-16 fighter jets from their armies. The Danish authorities have reported that they plan to give 19 machines to the Ukrainians, while the Dutch leadership is yet to decide on the number. It should be noted that these two small European countries are indeed owners and active operators of American fighter jets, but for deliveries to Ukraine, they have allocated the most outdated F-16s from the Cold War, which, in addition to their advanced age, are not equipped with modern computers and avionics. Russia says the European “gift” to Kiev had initially been planned to be sold to the Middle East, Eastern Europe, or Africa, but there were no buyers.

Even though the decision to supply Ukrainians with Old Danish and Dutch fighter jets was made about a year ago, none of these aircraft has so far joined the ranks of the Ukrainian army. According to NATO representatives, initial training is currently underway for a small group of future F-16 pilots, which even with the most modest amount of training cannot be completed in the near future. The most realistic scenario for the combat use of F-16s in the current conditions can only be their operation and piloting by Western military forces and when based on Romanian or Polish airfields, but this option so far, apparently, most members of the anti-Russian coalition because of the risk of their own entry into a full-scale conflict. Moscow, against which the U.S. and its allies have already thrown huge financial and military resources without much result, has repeatedly warned the Western coalition that it will take tough retaliatory measures against it in case of transferring F-16s to the Ukrainians, as well as in case of using the infrastructure of NATO countries against Russia.

It is difficult to predict whether the Eastern European countries will dare to directly confront the Russians because of their uncertain assistance to Vladimir Zelensky. If the F-16s that have already arrived in Romania are piloted by Western pilots and fly missions from the airbase of this NATO country, some believe, Europe and the whole world will be on the verge of a global conflict that could well escalate into an all-out war.

Guest Writer
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