President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Denmark for its support in an address to the country’s Parliament on Monday, a day after it became one of the first nations to pledge F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
The Netherlands and Denmark said Sunday that they would donate dozens of F-16s to Ukraine in what Mr. Zelensky called a “breakthrough” in his country’s longstanding quest to acquire the aircraft, which it considers imperative in the war against Russia.
“When you defend people’s right to life, you are joined by others who value life,” Mr. Zelensky said Monday during the address in Copenhagen. “And this makes you together invincible! I thank you, Denmark, for helping Ukraine to become invincible!”
The procurement of American-made F-16s to supplement a fleet of Soviet-era jets has been a priority for Mr. Zelensky’s government for months as it seeks an advantage over Russia’s air force and to improve its own air defenses. Ukrainian officials acknowledged last week, however, that NATO countries would not donate the planes before next year, which is too late for use in a counteroffensive the government in Kyiv launched this summer.
President Biden, setting aside months of resistance, said in May that NATO countries could train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, a monthslong process, and on Thursday a U.S. official said that the United States would allow allies to send the jets.
Mr. Zelensky nodded at the lengthy process to acquire the jets, saying in his address on Monday that there “was a time when they said that this would never happen.”
“Solidarity turned into leadership. In particular, your leadership, Denmark,” he said. “And it is leadership that multiplies our collective strength.”
Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Vladimir Barbin, said that the Danish decision would lead to “an escalation of the conflict,” the Russian state news agency Tass reported.
Mr. Zelensky’s trip to Denmark began on Sunday with a visit to an air force base in Jutland, where he met with Ukrainian pilots being trained on F-16s and Denmark’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that it would donate 19 of the jets to Ukraine.
He had traveled there from the Netherlands, where Mr. Zelensky said that the country would donate 42 jets once Ukrainian pilots and engineers had been trained.
F-16s would enhance Ukraine’s ground-launched air defenses, which are used to fight off Russian missile attacks, and could also act as a deterrent to Moscow in the longer term because they could erase its aerial superiority.
Ukraine is also pushing to obtain Swedish Gripen warplanes, and Mr. Zelensky said during a visit to Sweden this weekend that it was “getting closer” to obtaining them. He also reached a more tangible agreement on Saturday involving the supply of armored vehicles.
Sweden has so far refused to send Gripens to Ukraine, with officials saying that the jets — built by Saab — are needed to defend its own borders. Russia’s invasion prompted Sweden, and neighboring Finland, to apply to join NATO. Finland has since become a member of the alliance, but Sweden’s application has been held up by Turkey.
Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden did not mention the combat planes during a news conference with Mr. Zelensky on Saturday. Ukraine has received Soviet-era jets from Poland and Slovakia.
— Enjoli Liston and Matthew Mpoke Bigg