Ukraine aims to win aerial battle with Russia in 2024 with F-16s expected

Volodymyr Zelenskiy urges West to help Ukraine with $300 billion in frozen Russian assets

Ukraine said it wants to take full control of its skies this year by winning the aerial battle with Russia, as western officials discussed whether to use $300 billion (€276 billion) in frozen Russian assets to help Kyiv amid European and US funding disputes.

A group of Ukraine’s pilots are now training on the US-made F-16 fighter jets that the country hopes to receive in significant numbers from allies this year. Kyiv’s air force has also suggested that French-made Mirage jets and US A-10 Thunderbolt attack planes could also join its ranks at some point.

“In 2024, of course the priority is to throw Russia from the skies. Because the one who controls the skies will define when and how the war will end,” Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

Ukraine drove back Russia’s land forces in the months following their full-scale invasion in February 2022, and last year Kyiv used western-supplied and domestically-made rockets and explosive aerial and marine drones to weaken the Russian navy’s control of the Black Sea around Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.


Russia’s air superiority continues, however, and Ukrainian units engaged in a counteroffensive this summer came under withering fire from attack helicopters, while Russian aircraft bomb the frontline and towns and cities across Ukraine every day.

“We are fighting a powerful enemy, a very big enemy that doesn’t sleep,” Mr Kuleba said. “We defeated them on the land in 2022. We defeated them in the sea in 2023 and we are completely focused on defeating them in the air in 2024.”

Ukraine claims to have struck a notable blow in the air war this week, when it says it shot down a Russian A-50 early-warning radar plane and an Il-22 aerial command post jet. Russian sources suggest the A-50 was destroyed and the Il-22 limped back with damage to a home airbase.

Kyiv is seeking more powerful air defence systems such as the US-made Patriot, and France said this week that it would supply dozens more cruise missiles and hundreds more bombs to Ukraine.

Russia fired rockets and drones at Ukrainian cities early on Wednesday, injuring at least 20 civilians in Kharkiv and Odesa. Later in the day, Russian shelling killed one civilian and injured several others in the partly occupied Kherson region.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seeking more arms and more financing for his country at the WEF, as political disputes in the EU and US stymie efforts to send aid worth tens of billions of euro and dollars to Kyiv.

“If we have $300 billion of [frozen] Russia assets we have to use them directly to rebuild what has been destroyed by Russian missiles,” the BBC quoted Mr Zelenskiy as saying on Wednesday.

US and European officials are discussing the issue in Davos, amid some concern that confiscation could undermine the West’s reputation as a financial safe haven. The Kremlin says it would respond to such a move by seizing western business assets still in Russia.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe