A spate of Russian attacks on airfields across Ukraine point to Moscow’s tactic of targeting sites it believes will house F-16s, which Kyiv’s European backers will send this month (July 2024).

The western city of Starokostiantyniv, home to one of Ukraine’s most important air bases, has been a primary target of Russian airstrikes.

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Ukraine has repeatedly called on Nato allies to send US-made F-16s, persuading the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Belgium to commit to send roughly 90 jets between them.

Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said the necessary permits had approved the delivery of the 24 F-16s regardless of today’s (2 July) change of government. Ollongren has not specified how many F-16s will be sent in the first delivery – nor when the jets will arrive in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s plea for Patriots grows louder

While Kyiv has welcomed the promise of F-16s, Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian airfields lay bare the challenges it faces in rebuilding its depleted air forces and air defences.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has led Ukraine’s plea for Patriot missiles – the most capable and expensive air defence systems Kyiv has against Russia’s aerial bombardment.

In April, the US allocated $6bn of its $60bn aid package for Ukraine solely for Patriots. Each battery costs roughly $1bn, and each missile costs $4m.

Ukraine currently has three or four Patriot systems, supplied by the US and Germany. Zelensky says it needs at least seven to defend its major cities, including second city Kharkiv which has been heavily targeted by Russia’s KAB guided air bombs.

The US has also discussed sending up to eight Patriot systems from Israel to Ukraine, without reaching a decision.

Zelensky is expected to reiterate such calls in talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who arrived in Kyiv yesterday (1 July), a day after Hungary assumed the presidency of the EU Council.

Orban, a vocal critic of Western weapons support for Ukraine and Putin ally, reportedly proposed a ceasefire deal to Zelensky. Neither premier revealed Zelensky’s exact response.  

Attention now shifts to the imminent Dutch delivery of F-16s, the potential for further Patriot shipments and how Ukraine will protect its airfields from Russia’s targeting.