(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday cautioned that deliveries of the F-16s that Ukraine has long sought in its fight against Russia could take “months and months” once it’s determined the fighter jets are appropriate, but America’s support hasn’t wavered.
In an interview on CNN, America’s top diplomat defended U.S. assistance to Ukraine so far, insisting Kyiv had consistently been given the equipment it needs to try and repel Russia’s invasion.
“At every step along the way, in fact, going back before the Russian aggression when we saw the storm rising … we made sure, going back to Labor Day before the war, Christmas before the war, that they started to get in their hands the equipment they would need if the Russians went forward,” Blinken told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “Every step along the way ever since, we’ve worked to try to get them what they need, when they need it.”
“But it’s not just the equipment itself. It’s the training, it’s the maintenance, it’s the ability to use it in combined arms operations. All of that takes time,” Blinken said. “If a decision were made to actually move forward on the F-16s tomorrow, it would be months and months before they were actually operational.”
The Biden administration previously resisted helping provide F-16s to Ukraine amid concerns of escalation, though supporters of supplying the jets have defended their value and argued that sending them wouldn’t risk provoking broader Russian aggression.
In a sit-down interview earlier this month with ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that while he was grateful for international support, more munitions would improve the chance of his country’s success.
“F-16 or any other equipment that we do need will give us an opportunity to move faster, to save more lives, to stand our ground for a longer time,” Zelenskyy said then. “Well, some weapons have been provided, on the other hand, helps us save lives and we appreciate that. Of course, foot dragging will lead to more lives lost.”
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” in July, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that sending F-16s was the goal — as was making sure Ukrainian forces could utilize them.
“We’re going to be working with some allies and partners to get the F-16 pilots the pilot training going very, very soon,” Kirby said then. “And we’re going to work to get those jets to Ukraine just as quickly as possible.”
Earlier this summer, Ukraine began its latest counteroffensive to continue retaking land from Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion last year after taking over the Crimea Peninsula in 2014.
On CNN, Blinken recognized that Ukraine was clamoring for whatever equipment it could get its hands on but expressed faith in the U.S.-led coalition to keep arming Ukraine.
“If I were in the shoes of our Ukrainian friends and partners, I’d probably be saying exactly the same thing. And President Zelenskyy’s been extraordinary as a leader and in trying to galvanize the international community, along with us, to provide them what they need,” he said.
“Our military leaders are using their best expertise possible to help determine what it is that can be most effective for the Ukrainians. How quickly can it be deployed? How effectively can they use it? That will continue and the process on the F-16s is moving,” Blinken said.
He acknowledged challenges in the ongoing counteroffensive but said Ukraine was resilient.
“[Russia’s] objective was to erase Ukraine from the map, to eliminate its independence, its sovereignty, to subsume it into Russia. That failed a long time ago,” Blinken said. “Now Ukraine is in a battle to get back more of the land that Russia seized from it. It’s already taken back about 50% of what was initially seized. Now they’re in a very hard fight to take back more. These are still relatively early days of the counteroffensive. It is tough.”
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.