President Biden on Thursday spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to mark 18 months since Russia’s invasion and discuss training Ukrainians on F-16 fighter jets.
The two leaders “discussed the commencement of training of Ukrainian fighter pilots and assurance of expedited approval for other nations to transfer their F-16s to Ukraine upon completion of training to increase Ukraine’s defensive capabilities,” according to a readout from the White House. The call also came on Ukrainian’s Independence Day.
Last week, the U.S. approved the transfer of F-16s from the Netherlands and Denmark, after months of Ukraine pushing its Western allies for the fighter jets. While delivery of the aircraft and arrival on the battlefield could take months, and while Ukrainian pilots still need to train on the F-16s, Kyiv could deploy the aircraft as soon as next spring or summer.
In May, Biden said European allies would train Ukrainian pilots on the fighter jets, marking a reversal in the stance. A coalition of 11 allies agreed at a major NATO summit in July to begin training Ukrainian pilots in August.
Biden on the phone with Zelensky on Thursday also expressed his admiration for the people of Ukraine and their bravery on behalf of the American people. The president “reiterated the U.S. commitment to support Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression for as long as it takes, and to hold Russia accountable for its actions,” according to the readout.
His comments come the morning after Republican presidential candidates debated whether more aid should be sent to Ukraine. Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis both said they would cut off U.S. funding to Ukraine when asked about Biden’s request to Congress for $25 billion in more aid to the war-torn country.
Biden, in a statement, said Americans are united against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And, on Wednesday, Biden suggested Putin could be behind the plane crash in Russia that may have killed Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was listed as a passenger. Prigozhin led the so-called March of Justice that aimed to topple Moscow’s military leadership earlier this summer.