BRUSSELS: Poland is ready to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets, the Polish defence minister said Tuesday, after the United States gave its green light.

“We’re ready. The Polish side is ready to train pilots on F-16 aircraft. Such training has not yet begun,” Mariusz Blaszczak said, after talks with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Blaszczak said he wanted the training to be part of a broader EU programme to ready Ukrainian military personnel for the fight against Russia.

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The minister’s comments came after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that training of pilots for the F-16 jets had already started in “several countries”, including Poland.

The European push comes after President Joe Biden gave the go-ahead for Kyiv’s pilots to be trained on the US-made warplanes, which Ukraine says it needs to fight off Russia’s invasion.

Poland, a neighbour to Ukraine and one of its staunchest supporters, has said for months it is ready to train Ukrainian pilots on the jets.

The country has been a key hub for training Ukraine’s soldiers and supplying weaponry to Kyiv.

Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said a coalition of Kyiv’s European backers was looking to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets “as soon as possible”.

“We are working on the concrete timeline for starting the trainings and we feel it’s important to do that as soon as possible,” Ollongren said.

“It is a co-effort with Denmark, Belgium, UK and other allies, so a coordinated effort. But we will speed up now that we know that we have the green light” from Washington, she said.

She said that the training has not started yet “not even in Poland or anywhere else”.

The United States had stalled on talks over providing advanced jets due to concerns about the long timeline, high price, and the possibility of escalating tensions with Russia.

Ollongren said training would be the “first step” towards the eventually supply of Western aircraft to Kyiv.

“We will continue discussing with our allies and with countries that might have F-16s available about that next step, but that’s not on the table right now,” she said.

“That is in the next phase.”

European economic powerhouse Germany said it was examining how it could be involved but warned it had only “extremely limited” possibilities to contribute as it does not possess F-16 jets.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin’s involvement “is not relevant because we simply do not have F-16 aircraft and could not help with pilot training”.


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