Ukraine F-16 training has begun in Poland: EU's Borrell

An F-16 fighter jet. American President Joe Biden said Monday the United States would not provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. PHOTO | DOD | US AIR FORCE | JONATHAN | AFP

The training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 jets has begun in Poland, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday, after the United States gave its green light.

"I am happy that finally the training of the pilots for the F-16 has started in several countries. It will take time, but the sooner the better," Borrell said at a meeting of EU defence ministers in Brussels. 

"For example in Poland," Borrell said when asked to specify where it had begun. 

A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed to AFP the training had started in Poland. 

The defence ministry in Warsaw declined to comment. 

The move comes after US President Joe Biden last week gave the go-ahead for Kyiv's pilots to be trained on the American-made jets that 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 at the meeting that a coalition of Kyiv's western 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 in Brussels.

"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. 

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".