The training of Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 jets has begun in Poland, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday.
The move comes after US President Joe Biden last week gave the go-ahead for Ukrainian pilots to be trained on the American-made jets that Ukraine says it needs to fight off Russia’s invasion.
“I am happy that finally the training of the pilots for the F-16 has started in several countries. It will take time, but the sooner the better,” Borrell said at a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels.
“For example in Poland,” he said when asked to specify where it had begun. Poland, a neighbor to Ukraine and one of its staunchest supporters, has said for months it is ready to train Ukrainian pilots on the jets.
Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren said at the meeting that a coalition of Kyiv’s western European backers was looking to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets “as soon as possible.” Ollongren said training would be the “first step” towards the eventual supply of Western aircraft to Kyiv.
Germany said it was examining how it could be involved, but warned it had only “extremely limited” possibilities to contribute as it does not possess F-16 jets. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin’s involvement “is not relevant because we simply do not have F-16 aircraft and could not help with pilot training.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the West wouldn’t stand down in the face of Russia, adding that the training “is sending a very clear signal that we are there for the long term and that Russia can not wait us out.”
“Announcing clearly that they will start training — this is an important step that partly will enable us to deliver fighter jets at some stage,” Stoltenberg said before meeting with EU defense ministers.
Here are some of the other developments concerning Russia’s war in Ukraine on Tuesday, May 23:
Latvian minister defends banning Russian channels
Lativia’s Justice Minister Inese Libina-Egnere has defended the decision to ban Russian television channels in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.
The country has a sizable Russian-speaking community that officials say are being targeted with misinformation from Moscow.
“After the attack in Ukraine started, everyone understood that we have to ban the channels. But before there was always a fight: That’s freedom of speech,” Libina-Egnere said in an interview with DW.
She told DW that things like “harassment, violation of human rights, violation of human dignity, falsification of history” do not constitute a variety of news perspectives.
“That’s actually using the freedom of speech against democracy,” she said.
In a related move, Latvia also eliminated Russian from the school curriculum — a policy seen as discriminatory by some members of the Russian-speaking minority.
Report: Belarus involved in transfers of Ukrainian children
The National Anti-Crisis Management, a group of exiled Belarusian opposition leaders, accused Minsk of taking part in the illegal deportation of children from Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.
In a report published Tuesday, the group said 2,150 Ukrainian children, including orphans aged six to 15, were taken to so-called recreation camps and sanatoriums on Belarusian territory.
Media reports have suggested that Belarus was in some way involved in such deportations.
Ukraine claims that around 20,000 children have been illegally transferred to Russia since Moscow launched the war in Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ombudsman for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for two counts of war crimes for moving hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Russia battling alleged incursion in Belgorod
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said on Tuesday that drones targeting the area had been shot down as fighting continued near the Ukrainian border for a second day.
Clashes broke out on Monday after Russia reported an incursion by what they called a group of “saboteurs” from Ukraine. The alleged raid is the largest attack of its kind since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a “counter-terrorism operation” was still underway, with the Defense Ministry and law enforcement agencies continuing “to clean up” the territory on the border with Ukraine.
He also said earlier on Telegram that several drones struck houses and a government building in the region overnight but did not result in casualties or deaths.
He added that it was too early for residents who had been evacuated to return home: “I now appeal to the residents of the Graivoron district, who … temporarily left their homes, it is not possible to return yet.”
Gladkov said one woman died during the evacuation on Monday. Two people were reportedly wounded but Russian security forces have not been able to reach them.
Meanwhile, Russian investigators said they had opened a terrorism investigation after what they said was a cross-border attack mounted by Ukrainian armed groups.
However, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said on Twitter that the situation “has nothing to do with” the Ukrainian government.
Ukrainian military intelligence said two armed Russian opposition groups, the Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, both consisting of Russian citizens, were responsible for the attack.
The details of the incident could not be independently verified.
IMF mission starts review of Ukraine’s new loan program
An International Monetary Fund mission started work on Tuesday on the first review of a $15.6 billion (€14.5 billion) loan program that it approved in March, the Ukrainian Finance Ministry said.
The IMF’s four-year program for Ukraine is part of a $115-billion global package to support the country’s economy as it battles Russia’s full-scale invasion.
The ministry said in a statement that Ukraine’s economic performance, the situation in the energy sector, and efforts to ensure the rule of law, increase transparency and fight corruption would be discussed during meetings in Vienna.
To ensure continued IMF support, Ukraine must meet a number of conditions, including steps to boost tax revenue, maintain exchange rate stability, preserve central bank independence, and strengthen anti-corruption efforts.
Zelenskyy visits front line to congratulate marines
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he visited front-line troops to congratulate them on the Day of the Ukrainian Marines.
Zelenskyy posted photos online showing himself presenting awards and posing with a group of marines in a dimly lit location.
“Our defenders. Frontline. Today I am here to congratulate our warriors on the Day of the Ukrainian Marines,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
Zelenskyy’s office said that he visited the Donetsk front line in eastern Ukraine. “On his return from a foreign visit, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the front-line positions of the Ukrainian armed forces in the Vuhledar-Maryinka defense line in the Donetsk region,” the presidency said in a statement.
Ukraine says it still holds part of Bakhmut
Ukrainian forces still control the southwestern edge of the city of Bakhmut and fighting in the city itself has decreased, Deputy Ukrainian Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said.
She wrote on the Telegram messaging app that Ukrainian forces had made some progress “on the flanks to the north and south of Bakhmut” and that Russian forces, which say they have taken the city itself, were continuing to clear areas they control.
The head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group said on Sunday that his forces had captured all the territory in Bakhmut and would leave the city by June 1.
Russia’s sanctioned interior minister visits Saudi Arabia
A top Russian official who faces sanctions in the West over Moscow’s war on Ukraine visited Saudi Arabia and held talks with his counterpart in the kingdom, state media reported.
Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev’s visit to Riyadh came just days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed an Arab League summit held in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Friday.
The visits underline how the kingdom and Gulf Arab states, traditionally the security clients of the United States, have been maintaining their relations with Moscow amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency said Kolokoltsev met with Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud.
“During the session, they discussed ways to enhance security cooperation paths between the two countries’ ministries of interior, in addition to discussing a number of issues of common interest,” the report said, without elaborating.
Kolokoltsev has been sanctioned by the US since 2018 as part of a slew of sanctions over Russia’s activity in both Syria and Ukraine. The US Treasury says that Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, New Zealand and the UK all separately have sanctioned Kolokoltsev as well.
The US also refused to grant him a visa to participate in a United Nations chiefs of police summit in 2022, something criticized by Moscow. As interior minister, Kolokoltsev has cracked down on independent media in Russia, including targeting the outlet Proekt in 2021 as it prepared to publish an investigation about his alleged wealth.
Russian PM arrives in China for talks with Xi
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has arrived in China, Moscow’s Foreign Ministry said, for a visit in which he will meet with President Xi Jinping and ink a series of deals on infrastructure and trade.
Mishustin is scheduled to take part in a Russian-Chinese Business Forum and visit a petrochemical research institute in Shanghai, the Kremlin said, as well as hold talks with “representatives of Russian business circles.”
That forum has invited a number of sanctioned Russian tycoons — including from the key fertilizer, steel and mining sectors — as well as Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who handles energy issues, Bloomberg reported.
China last year became the top energy customer for Russia, whose gas exports had otherwise plummeted after a flurry of Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
China and Russia have in recent years ramped up economic cooperation and diplomatic contacts, with their strategic partnership having only grown closer over the past year. While China says it is a neutral party in that war, it has refused to condemn Russia for the invasion.
More DW coverage on Russia’s war in Ukraine
Disputes in Russian society do not pose a threat to Vladimir Putin’s government, says Bruno Kahl, head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service. He argues Moscow has enough recruits and equipment for a long-lasting war.
Yevgeny Prigozhin has admitted to leading the Wagner Group of mercenaries and a massive internet troll farm. But is he a threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin, or is he just doing what the Kremlin leader wants? Read more here.
dh/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)