'We need F-16s ourselves, but we can help Ukraine in other ways,' says De Croo

'We need F-16s ourselves, but we can help Ukraine in other ways,' says De Croo
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo pictured during the press conference after a summit of the European Council in Brussels. Credit: Belga/Benoit Doppagne

While Belgium is ready to provide support to help Ukraine push back Russia's full-scale invasion, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo made it clear that Belgian F-16s fighter jets will not be part of the aid package.

On the fringes of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Brussels and his first in-person speech in the European Parliament since the start of the war in February 2022, De Croo repeated his willingness to help.

Zelenskyy's visit is "a very clear signal that Europe is united in supporting Ukraine," De Croo told VRT. "A very clear signal that we will do everything we can to help Ukrainians live in peace because that is what it is all about: Ukrainians must be able to live in peace in their country."

He added that several weeks ago, Belgium announced a new "very broad" support package for Ukraine. "Now, we will have the opportunity to speak with President Zelenskyy in small groups and see how we can help him more broadly."

Not just military support

Two weeks ago, Belgium announced that it would send a €92 million military aid package to Ukraine – the "largest military package of aid that our country has decided so far" as it is being combined with the previous €146 million aid package that includes "fuel and ammunition, but also anti-tank guns and machine guns."

On Thursday, De Croo stressed that help "is not just about military support, it is also about humanitarian support to help the population through the difficult winter."

At the end of January, several countries – including the US and Germany – agreed to supply Ukraine with modern Western (M1A1 Abrams and Leopard 2) tanks, even if most allies had previously been firmly against providing heavy military equipment to the country.

Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for the "modern and much-needed tanks," but immediately also highlighted Ukraine's needs "in other aspects of our defence cooperations" and made a new request for other modern weapons systems, including aircraft and long-range missiles.

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While it is not improbable that Zelenskyy's request will eventually be granted (the German and American tank deliveries would also have been considered unthinkable just a few months ago), De Croo made it clear that Belgium would not send its F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

"We need those Belgian F-16s ourselves; they are used to defend NATO in the Baltics, where we do what is called 'air policing,' meaning defending the Baltic states," he said. "We also need it to protect the airspace in our country. We have always been very clear about it: we need those Belgian F-16s ourselves, but there are many other things we can support them with, of course."

As De Croo will be able to speak to Zelenskyy later in the day, the possibility that Belgium will increase its recently-announced package of (military) aid seems likely.

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