The United States (US) has approved sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine from Denmark and the Netherlands to defend against Russian invaders as soon as pilot training is completed, a US official said on Thursday.
Ukraine has actively sought the US-made F-16 fighter jets to help it counter Russian air superiority.
Washington gave Denmark and the Netherlands official assurances that the United States will expedite approval of all necessary third-party transfer requests of F-16s to Ukraine so that Ukraine will get F-16s when the pilots are trained.
Denmark and the Netherlands, the two countries leading the training coalition, had recently asked for those assurances.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his Danish and Dutch counterparts assuring them that the requests would be approved, the official said. “I am writing to express the United States’ full support for both the transfer of F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine and for the training of Ukrainian pilots by qualified F-16 instructors,” Blinken said in a letter to the two officials, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
Blinken said, “It remains critical that Ukraine is able to defend itself against ongoing Russian aggression and violation of its sovereignty.”
He said the approval of the third party requests would allow Ukraine to take “full advantage of its new capabilities as soon as the first set of pilots complete their training.”
US President Joe Biden had endorsed training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in May but no timing for the supply of war planes had been given so far.
The F-16 is made by Lockheed Martin. AFP adds from Moscow: Russian forces have destroyed Ukrainian drones targeting Moscow and its Black Sea Fleet, officials said, the latest in a surge of attacks on the capital and the flashpoint waterway.
Russia's defence ministry said its air force downed a Ukrainian drone over the capital at about 04:00 (0100 GMT) on Friday.
"The UAV, after being exposed to air defence weapons, changed its flight path and fell on a non-residential building in the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment area of Moscow," the ministry said on Telegram.
Moscow's mayor said emergency services were on the scene, but that early reports indicated there were no casualties.
"The wreckage of the UAV fell in the area of the Expo Centre, and did not cause significant damage to the building," Sergei Sobyanin said on Telegram. State-run news agency TASS reported that one of the walls of the venue's pavilion had partially collapsed, citing emergency services.
"The area of the collapse is about 30 square meters (323 square feet)," emergency services told TASS.
TASS also reported that the airspace near the international airport of Vnukovo was briefly closed, with departures and arrivals delayed, citing the aviation service.
The expo centre, on the Krasnopresnenskaya embankment of the Moskva River, hosts regular exhibitions and trade shows, according to its website. The venue is 100 metres (328 feet) from Moscow-City, an office block in the capital's main business district that was struck twice within days by debris from downed drone strikes this month.
Until a series of attacks in recent months, the capital had not been targeted during the conflict in Ukraine, which began more than a year ago.
Last week, Russia destroyed a Ukrainian drone over Moscow's west, with debris landing in a park on the Karamyshevskaya embankment.
In May drones were shot down near the Kremlin, less than five kilometres from the Expo Centre.
On July 30, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that "war" was coming to Russia, with the country's "symbolic centres and military bases" becoming targets.
Hours before the strike on Moscow, Russia thwarted a Ukrainian marine drone attack on its warships in the Black Sea, the latest in a string of assaults on its fleet.
Russia's defence ministry said the drone was destroyed late on Thursday night by navy patrol ships, 237 km (147 miles) southwest of Sevastopol -- the base of its Black Sea Fleet on the Moscow-annexed Crimean peninsula. Attacks from both sides have escalated in the Black Sea since Russia pulled out of a deal that had allowed safe export of Ukrainian grain through the shipping hub.
On August 4, Russia said it had repelled Ukraine's attempted drone attack on its Novorossiysknaval base in the sea, while a Ukrainian security source said the strike on a warship at the base was successful.
The attack came hours after a civilian cargo ship sailing through the Black Sea from Ukraine reached Istanbul in defiance of a Russian blockade.
Moscow announced last month that it would consider any ships nearing Ukraine in the Black Sea as potential military cargo carriers.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the ship was using a "new humanitarian corridor" Kyiv established after the grain deal collapsed.
Days ago, a Russian navy ship fired warning shots and boarded a Turkish-owned but Palau-flagged cargo vessel that was sailing to a Ukrainian river port. Russia has also ramped up attacks on Ukraine's port infrastructure in the Black Sea and the Danube River, a vital export route since the grain deal's scrapping, in recent weeks.
Russia's attempts to control shipping on the Black Sea come against the backdrop of a military counteroffensive launched in June by Ukrainian forces, which is supported by new Western equipment but making slow progress.