Ukraine to receive F-16s 'very soon' but much aid arriving late, defence minister says


  • World
  • Tuesday, 28 May 2024

Ukraine's Defence Minister Rustem Umerov speaks during an interview with Reuters, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 27, 2024. REUTERS/Alina Smutko

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine will receive its first supplies of F-16 fighter jets "very soon", but around half of its desperately needed foreign military aid is arriving late, Kyiv's defence minister has said.

Rustem Umerov, 42, told Reuters in an interview in Kyiv late on Monday that Russia was deploying more manpower and equipment to the front, more than 27 months after its full-scale invasion.

Kyiv's forces have managed to stabilise the new front in the northeastern Kharkiv region where Russia attacked earlier this month. But Umerov said Moscow was preparing for a new push.

"Their objective is to open a new front in the north to start using all their manpower, firing power, against us, they are continuing with their objective to destroy the nation," he said.

"We are withstanding, but of course we need more weapons, we need more firing power, we need long-range missiles, not to allow them to enter our state."

He said Ukraine was grateful for the military aid and weapons supplied by its partners, but that only half of the promised deliveries arrived on time. Every delay benefited Ukraine's much larger and better-equipped foe, with a front line stretching 1,200 km (750 miles).

MOBILISATION CRUCIAL FOR UKRAINE

Even before Russian forces crossed this month into the northern part of the Kharkiv region, capturing border villages and forcing thousands of civilians to flee, it had been slowly advancing for months in the eastern Donetsk region.

"Time is super-crucial and, to repel the attacks, we need to have [the deliveries] on time in place," Umerov said.

Ukraine has also struggled to recruit the number of troops it requires to replenish and rotate tired and exhausted soldiers, some of whom have been fighting since February 2022. A new mobilisation law came into force last week.

Umerov said up to 1.2 million men had updated their military records online, as the legislation requires, to help draft officers, but did not say how many the government wants to, or thinks it will be able to, call up.

Military analysts put the number of Ukrainian defence personnel, including security and law enforcement, at more than one million.

The minister said Russia had about 500,000 troops in Ukraine and near its borders, and was preparing to add another 200,000-300,000.

Umerov, an ethnic Crimean Tatar, a Turkic minority from the peninsula seized by Russia in 2014, reiterated that Kyiv was determined to liberate all its territory up to its internationally-recognised 1991 borders, including Crimea.

But the main military objective for the coming months would be to hold its defensive lines and to suppress the enemy while enhancing Ukrainian military capabilities in the air, at sea and on land.

He said he expected the F-16 fighter jets to be delivered "hopefully very, very soon".

Asked how many Kyiv expected to receive, he said, in English: "We need as much as we may get."

"At this stage, we are focused on training our personnel ... pilots, we are focused on infrastructure, we are focused on bringing operational and maintenance teams and we are working on modernisation or bringing on more platforms."

He said Ukraine was also continuing to step up its own production of weapons and drones, as well as its electronic warfare capabilities.

(Reporting by Olena Harmash; editing by Tom Balmforth and Kevin Liffey)

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