Russia thwarts massive Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea
US to begin training Ukraine F-16 pilots in September: Pentagon
August 25, 2023 09:59 AM
Russia downed a barrage of 42 Ukrainian drones near Crimea, Moscow's defence ministry said Friday, in the largest recent air attack on the peninsula and a day after Kyiv claimed a special forces raid on the territory.
Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, has been targeted by Kyiv throughout Moscow's Ukraine offensive but has come under more intense, increased attacks in recent weeks.
Nine drones were "destroyed... over the territory of the Republic of Crimea," the defence ministry wrote on Telegram early Friday.
Thirty-three others "were suppressed by electronic warfare and crashed without reaching the target," it said, without specifying whether there had been any damage or casualties.
Earlier, a local Russian-installed official said several drones had been destroyed over the sea off Crimea's Cape Khersones.
The cape is located in the southwest of the peninsula near Sevastopol, which is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet.
Emergency services reported no damage to civilian infrastructure from those drones, Sevastopol governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on Telegram.
It was not clear whether they were included in the 42 reported by the defence ministry.
"All forces and services are in a state of combat readiness," Razvozhayev said.
Kyiv has repeatedly said it plans to take Crimea back.
In recent weeks it has targeted Russian infrastructure on the peninsula with barrages of up to 28 aerial drones.
On Thursday, Ukraine said its forces had landed on the peninsula and flown the country's flag during a "special operation" to mark its second wartime Independence Day.
Special forces troops had landed overnight on Crimea's western shore near the towns of Olenivka and Mayak, where they had "engaged in combat", Ukraine's GUR intelligence agency said.
Moscow has also accused Ukraine of attacking the Russian-built Crimean bridge, which connects the peninsula to Russia.
The bridge has been closed due to multiple incidents including a massive explosion in October last year.
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Reports of the aerial attack come as the Pentagon said it would begin training Ukrainian F-16 pilots in the United States starting next month.
The jets have long been sought by Kyiv, now bogged down in a plodding counter-offensive aimed at retaking land held by Russian forces.
US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky spoke on Thursday about plans to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets, the White House said.
Earlier, Biden had said he was "not surprised" at news that Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group and who led a brief mutiny against Russia's military, may have died in a plane crash.
"I don't know for a fact what happened, but I'm not surprised," Biden said.
Putin broke his silence Thursday on news of the crash, paying a qualified tribute to the mercenary boss and the paramilitary group he led.
"He was a man of complicated fate, and he made serious mistakes in his life, but he achieved the right results," Putin said.
Air defence systems destroyed a Ukrainian missile over Kaluga region, Moscow's defence ministry said Friday.
Kaluga borders the Moscow region, which has been targeted by a barrage of Ukrainian drone attacks in recent days after Kyiv vowed to "return" the conflict to Russia.
Flights to and from Moscow's Vnukovo and Domodedovo airports were briefly halted, the TASS news agency reported Friday, citing aviation services and without specifying why.
US to begin training Ukraine F-16 pilots in Sept: Pentagon
The Pentagon said Thursday it would begin training Ukrainian F-16 pilots in the United States starting next month so they can use the advanced aircraft against Russian forces.
Ukraine has long sought these sophisticated fighter jets so as to better fight the Russian invasion, and is now engaged in a fitful counter-offensive aimed at retaking land held by Russian forces.
The US training will involve "several" pilots and "dozens" of personnel to maintain the aircraft, said Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder.
"These pilots will be conducting English language training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas in September prior to attending F-16 flying training in Arizona" the following month, he said.
The Arizona training will take place at Morris Air National Guard Base, he added.
President Joe Biden and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky spoke Thursday and discussed the training program, the White House said.
"President Biden reiterated the US commitment to support Ukraine's defense against Russian aggression for as long as it takes, and to hold Russia accountable for its actions," a White House statement said.
The US program expands plans already announced by European allies to train Ukrainian personnel to fly the US-made F-16.
Last week the United States told Denmark and the Netherlands they can transfer their F-16s to Ukraine when the country's pilots are trained to use them.
On Thursday, Norway said it too would give F-16s to Ukraine, with news agency NTB reporting the donation would be between five and 10 planes.
Ryder said the training would normally last from five to eight months, depending on the skills the pilots already possess.
Language training at the beginning was crucial, "given the complexities and the specialized English that's required to fly these aircraft," he said.
The US is moving ahead with its own training program in recognition that Denmark and the Netherlands could not handle all the pilot preparation that Ukraine needs, Ryder added.
"We know that as the Danes and the Dutch prepare to train those pilots, that at a certain point in the future, capacity will be reached," he said.