Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the F-16 fighters provided to Kiev could fly from NATO airfields FILE PHOTO: An F-16. © Getty Images / Stocktrek Images

Russia will not hesitate to destroy US-made F-16 jets sent to Kiev even if they operate from bases outside Ukraine, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said.

Speaking at a regular briefing on Wednesday, Zakharova warned that Russia was aware that the West would soon provide Ukraine with advanced fighters, the first delivery of which is expected next year.

However, the spokeswoman pointed out that “a significant part of Ukraine’s airfield infrastructure has been destroyed, and those American fighters may be operating from airfields outside the country,” including in Poland, Slovakia and Romania.

The Russian Armed Forces will consider fighters participating in the conflict on the side of the Ukrainian military as legitimate targets to be destroyed.  

Zakharova further added that the upcoming F-16 deliveries lead NATO to “become even more mired in the Ukraine conflict,” adding that by sending arms to Kiev the US-led military bloc is in fact “waging a hybrid war [against Russia] under the guise of saving Ukraine.”

Ukraine has long requested advanced jets from the West, arguing that they would be crucial in countering Russian air superiority. In May, after months of hesitation, the UK and the Netherlands announced “an international coalition” to help Kiev procure F-16s.

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In August, the US cleared the way for Denmark and the Netherlands to re-export the fighters to Kiev – which vowed to send up to 61 jets – while also allowing European countries to train Ukrainian pilots. In October, Belgium also said it would provide Ukraine with an undisclosed number of US-made fighters starting in 2025.

The US itself has also joined the effort to train a “small number” of Ukrainian pilots on its soil, with about 200 additional personnel scheduled to receive maintenance training.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said that all political decisions regarding the F-16 deliveries had already been taken and that the planes would arrive in the country once all technical issues had been resolved.

Russia has repeatedly warned the West against arms deliveries to Kiev, noting that they would only prolong the conflict, but would not change its outcome. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also said that Moscow would deem the shipments of F-16 a “nuclear threat,” given that some modifications could carry atomic weapons. (RT)