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Ukrainian Official Discusses Timetable for Deploying Fighter Jets

FILE - Andrii Yermak, head of the Office of Ukraine's President, speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 4, 2022.

Earlier this month the White House changed its stance on providing F-16 warplanes to Ukraine, agreeing to allow the jets to be sent to the country to better help it defend itself from Russian attacks.

The timetable for the F-16s joining the war remains unclear, as it can take months for Ukrainian pilots to be trained.

Andrii Yermak, head of the Office of Ukraine's President, tells VOA how the country is quickly pivoting to get the planes into the battlefield and the security guarantees Ukraine's government is still seeking from the U.S. and NATO.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

VOA: One of the major topics during the summit was the F-15 and F-16 aircraft. President (Joe) Biden made it clear that the United States will provide Ukraine with everything it needs for a counteroffensive, but it seems that F-15 and F-16 aircraft are not necessary for that purpose. However, President (Volodymyr) Zelenskyy emphasized the word "accelerate" when answering my question on the delivery of these fighter jets. How do you reconcile these statements, and when can we expect to see Western fighter jets in Ukraine?

Andrii Yermak, Head of the Office of Ukraine's President: Regarding the aircraft, I can confirm what President Zelenskyy said. We appreciate the official statement from President Biden, where he assured us of the United States' participation in the aircraft coalition. Moreover, we have heard statements from partner countries such as France, Poland, Denmark, and the Netherlands, expressing their readiness to train our pilots. This is a significant initial step that paves the way for the future delivery of aircraft to Ukraine. We anticipate that the training exercises will commence very soon, perhaps within days. We also expect countries that have expressed their readiness to deliver aircraft to Ukraine to follow suit. We believe this process will begin within a matter of months, rather than an extended period. Naturally, we anticipate the same commitment from the United States. Therefore, this matter is no longer up for discussion; it is a resolved issue. The President openly discussed the timeline, and we addressed this during the meeting in Hiroshima. We are determined to make it happen as soon as possible, as the aircraft are essential for protecting our skies and maintaining Ukrainian superiority in that domain.

VOA: When you mention the aircraft coalition or fighter jet coalition, can you clarify what it means to be part of it? Not all NATO member countries have the F-15 and F-16s we've been discussing. Could you explain the nature of this coalition and who has expressed their support?

Yermak: Being part of this coalition means that countries are willing to start by training pilots on the strategic aircraft available to them. Official statements have already been made by France, Poland, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and several other countries. I anticipate that this coalition will grow, and it is crucial for us. Just like the tank coalition, which was established and has already yielded results with the deployment of our partners' tanks in Ukraine, we expect the same outcome with aircraft.

VOA: Ukraine has requested specific security guarantees, including from the United States. Can you elaborate on the nature of these security guarantees? Are they similar to the Budapest Memorandum, or do they follow a different format, such as the Israeli model or the Kyiv Security Treaty?

Yermak: Concerning security guarantees, President Zelenskyy has been advocating for them in our path towards NATO membership for several months. NATO membership is our primary guarantee. NATO is currently the strongest alliance in the world, a fact acknowledged by all. When we initiated discussions with our partners, we didn't merely talk; we presented a concrete proposal. President Zelenskyy mandated the development of a document called the Kyiv Security Compact. This document takes into account the prevailing situation and outlines the potential guarantees we can receive. It also explains the rationale behind these guarantees. It is essential to note that we do not discuss Article 5 until we become NATO members. Therefore, these guarantees are tangible and realistic.

During President Biden's visit to Kyiv, he made it clear during his meeting with President Zelenskyy that he respects our desire for guarantees and supports it. In subsequent consultations with our partners, we have taken the position that the ideal format would be a document combining elements from the Kyiv Security Compact and the various agreements and arrangements between the United States and the State of Israel. We sense positive receptiveness from our partners, and there is widespread support for this approach. We are engaged in constructive work, and I believe we will achieve results soon. Thus, Ukraine sees security guarantees through its NATO membership, which can be realized when the security situation permits. There is no alternative to this, and we consider ourselves future members of NATO.

VOA: Analysts I have spoken to suggest that Ukraine's invitation to join NATO, even in writing, could serve as an argument to end the war — a catalyst for Russia to cease-fire. Do you believe this invitation could contribute to peace, if at all possible?

Yermak: Absolutely, I believe that extending an invitation to Ukraine to join NATO can be a decisive factor in ending the war. Russia's aggression on February 24 altered the reality, and it is now a reality that we must acknowledge. Finland has already become a NATO member, and Sweden is on the path to membership. The same should apply to Ukraine. Ukraine wants to join NATO, and I firmly believe that NATO needs Ukraine to establish a new security structure in Europe and the world. This desire is not solely ours; it is a reality demanded by the modern world and modern Europe. Without Ukraine, there can be no viable new security system in Europe. The existing system has proven ineffective, as demonstrated by the events of February 24th. Europe requires a secure world, and that is impossible without Ukraine. Russia must accept this reality, as it cannot be denied. They initiated the change in reality through their attack on Ukraine, and they cannot simply ignore it. And they will have to eventually accept it.

VOA: How do you envision the peace following the end of the war, and how will it impact the world globally?

Yermak: I am certain once the war ends, the world will be safer. It will reflect the desires of people worldwide. I am certain of it, as are all reasonable individuals worldwide. For Ukraine, the end of the war means the restoration of our territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders. We will not compromise on this point. It will signify the emergence of a prosperous, modern, and rebuilt Ukraine, standing as the best nation globally. We will foster partnerships and friendly relations with all those who have stood by our side. Furthermore, Ukraine will play a pivotal role in establishing a new security system in Europe and become a crucial component of the emerging global order that unites Europe, the Global South, and all other continents. Our struggle and the symbolism it carries demonstrate to the world that our courageous people have restored faith in the triumph of good. We should not fear fighting for our values, and every nation's sovereignty must be respected. Today, we symbolize the world's aspiration for peaceful, secure, and safe living. We should focus on future generations rather than merely surviving each day and wondering if our loved ones will see another day.