Putin’s Chilling Warning: Any Ukrainian F-16s Will Be “Legitimate Targets”, Even in NATO bases

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, made remarks on March 27 regarding the transfer of F-16 fighter jets from Western nations to Ukraine. Putin vowed that Russian forces would destroy fighters, planes, and tanks. According to Putin, the deployment of F-16 fighters by Western nations to Ukraine won’t be enough to alter the situation on the battlefield.

“Of course, if they are operated from airfields of third countries, they become a legitimate target for us, wherever they are,” Putin stated in response to a query on whether the Russian Armed Forces would attack Ukrainian F-16s operating from NATO airfields.

The topic of whether these fighters can carry nuclear weapons is also being intensively explored. President Putin underscored that when planning combat operations, the military “will take this issue into account.”

In February and March, Russian Armed Forces soldiers showed to NATO that they could strike F-16 planes on Ukrainian airfields.

On February 7, the Russian Army reportedly launched a missile attack on the Ukrainian Armed Forces airfield in Ivano-Frankivsk. The first American F-16 jets were expected to arrive at this airbase.

According to Ria Novosti, in March, one of the Russian Armed Forces’ raids on Ukrainian military sites targeted the military airfield in Starokonstantinov, in the Khmelnytsky region, where Ukraine’s Armed Forces are ready to receive American F-16 jets.

“It is known about the arrival at the airfield in the Khmelnytsky region, the city of Starokonstantinov. The airport is often targeted for strikes. According to underground sources, preparations are underway there to receive F-16 aircraft,” said underground coordinator Sergei Lebedev to the publication.

Ukraine is attempting to base and use F-16 fighters in combat situations. The first group of ten Ukrainian pilots finished their initial ten months of flying training in Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

However, Russia has frequently threatened to strike all Ukrainian airfields where F-16 jets are stationed. Ukraine lacks the infrastructure to support F-16 planes, and if it sought to develop it, it would be destroyed before it was completed.

It is believed that practically all airfields where aircraft can be stationed are within range of Russian missiles. The Russians have already hit Ukrainian airbases hosting MiG-29 jets with simple weaponry such as “Lancet” drones, which are roughly 60 kilometers south of the front line.

Against this context, news reports surfaced of Western governments debating where the F-16s would fly and who would lend their airspace and airfields. There are various alternatives for countries that could accept responsibility for supplying a location for F-16 takeoff, such as Moldova, whose president Maia Sandu is aggressively leaning toward this due to French influence. Nonetheless, this will result in very major problems for that state. If it is an Eastern European country, then the threats will apply to it. Some feel that if F-16s are allocated, they will most likely be flown from airfields in Romania or Bulgaria. 

The promised aircraft are dangerous since they can carry air-to-ground missiles with ranges of 500 to 1000 kilometers. They can launch from the Black Sea without entering Russia’s air defense zone and strike vital targets.

Nikolai Oleshchuk, Commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, indicated in December 2023 that preparations for Ukrainian runways had already begun. He said creating protective structures and rebuilding airport infrastructure and runway surfaces had already begun.

In February, Yuriy Ignat, Spokesman of the Air Force Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said the infrastructure is currently being adapted for the F-16. However, thorough preparation “takes years.” “The ideal thing today would be to hide it underground… Or build reinforced concrete shelters,” admitted the speaker of the Ukrainian Air Force.

Speaking to Kyiv-24 TV channel, he said the Ukrainian Armed Forces would not allow the deployment of American F-16 fighters given to Ukraine to NATO bases and airfields.

“Counting on the use of bases in other countries – every country and government thinks about its own security, especially since it’s unlikely to be possible in collective security,” he said.

In late January, the spokesperson stated that Ukraine could not currently accept F-16 fighters, even if they were transferred by European countries, due to the lack of infrastructure and trained pilots.

In February, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) Alexei Danilov said Ukraine was developing infrastructure to receive F-16s. General Sergei Naev, head of Ukraine’s joint forces, said that fighters and missiles with a range of 300-500 kilometers will be handed over to Kyiv.

According to Western media sources, Ukraine is expected to receive six of the planned 45 by July. Belgium, Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands are among the countries that have agreed to donate F-16s. A coalition of countries has pledged to assist Ukrainian pilots in learning how to use them.


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