Russia says troops defeated assault in border area; Europe seeks to speed up training for Kyiv’s F-16 pilots

Russia says troops defeated assault in border area; Europe seeks to speed up training for Kyiv’s F-16 pilots
Members of the 10th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade ‘Edelweiss’, a unit of the Ukrainian Ground Forces, prepare their mortar before firing at an undisclosed location in the Bakhmut direction, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, on 23 May 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Oleg Petrasyuk)

Russia said it defeated an insurgent group that crossed the border from Ukraine in the most serious fighting on its territory since the start of the war 15 months ago.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz reinforced Germany’s pledge to support Ukraine in denouncing the invasion. “This bitter chapter of our continent’s history, conjured up by Vladimir Putin’s imperialist delusion, will end with a free Ukraine joining the European Union as a full member,” he said.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has kicked off a two-day visit to China, as Moscow seeks to deepen trade ties with Beijing amid growing international isolation over its war in Ukraine.

Latest developments

Russian troops drive out ‘Ukrainian nationalist formation’

Troops backed by artillery and air strikes drove out a “Ukrainian nationalist formation” from Russia’s Belgorod region, killing 70 fighters and destroying four armoured vehicles as well as five pickup trucks, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Tuesday.

The “Freedom of Russia” legion, one of the groups that claimed to be involved in the attack, said in an audio message on its Telegram channel that it destroyed a company of Russian troops in a successful operation.

Bloomberg was unable to independently verify either side’s statements.

Ukraine has denied involvement in the incursion that began on Monday, saying it was carried out by Russian volunteer militia opposed to President Vladimir Putin’s government.

“These are patriots of Russia as far as we understand,” Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said in televised comments on Tuesday.

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said earlier that 12 people were injured in the “unprecedented” attack on border towns in the region, which he said included artillery and mortar fire, as well as explosives dropped from drones. It wasn’t yet safe for residents evacuated from the area to return home, he said on his Telegram channel.

There was “deep concern” over the incident, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, state-run Tass news service reported. Putin may discuss it at his regular Security Council meeting on Friday, though there are no plans to hold an emergency session on the attack, he said.

Residential and administrative buildings as well as local infrastructure were damaged by mortar and artillery fire, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.

The raid was the second cross-border attack in Russia in two months, after officials accused Ukraine in March of a sabotage operation in a village in the Bryansk region that killed two civilians and wounded a 10-year-old boy. Kyiv denied the claim, calling it an attempt by Russia to boost public support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

It also comes after Russia averted a strike by two drones on the Kremlin earlier this month, which it blamed on Ukraine without providing evidence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied his government was involved.

“Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action,” the UK Defence Ministry said on Twitter.




Orban says Ukraine can’t win war against Russia 

Ukraine can’t win the war against Russia, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, widely perceived to be the closest European Union nation to the Kremlin, said in an interview.

Europe seeks to speed up F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots

European allies aim to finalise plans as soon as June to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, Denmark’s acting defence minister said, after the US gave its support.

“First we need to talk about training and reeducation and after that we can discuss donations of F-16s,” Troels Lund Poulsen, who is also economic affairs minister, told reporters on Tuesday ahead of a gathering of defence counterparts in Brussels.

“My expectation is that in June we will have formalities in place and that we can start training after that,” Poulsen said, adding that it would take as much as six months of training and preparation before Ukrainian pilots can start operating F-16s.

Read More: Biden opens way to give Ukraine F-16s under allied pressure

President Joe Biden dropped his reluctance to send F-16s to Ukraine after months of pressure from Kyiv and allied governments, announcing on Friday that the US would support efforts to train Ukrainian pilots to use the fighter jets.

While the training will take place in Europe, it requires US permission because the jet is US-made. No country has yet formally committed to supplying F-16s to Ukraine.

Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said after Tuesday’s talks that his country was ready to train F-16 pilots. He added that the number of pilots involved would depend “on our possibilities” as Poland had obligations to protect the airspace over Poland and also the Baltic states.

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on arriving for talks with the ministers that he welcomed the F-16 training pledges. “This is an important step that partly will enable us to then deliver fighter jets at some stage but also is sending a very clear signal that we’re there for the long term and that Russia cannot wait us out,” Stoltenberg said.

“We will speed up now as we know we have a green light” on F-16 training, Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren said earlier on Tuesday.

The Danish minister said that in addition to his country, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK had all signalled readiness to formally cooperate on training, but that he expected other countries to join.

Asked about providing F-16 training facilities, German defence minister Boris Pistorius said his government was investigating that option. Pistorius did not provide any details. Germany doesn’t have any F-16s, but one possibility could be carrying out training at the US airbase in Ramstein.

Estonia’s Hanno Pevkur drew comparisons between the decision on fighter jets and the initial hesitation by allies to send tanks to Ukraine. He noted that donating fighter jets would be more complex because of the need for airfields, supply chains and pilot training to be in place.

“The sooner we can get ready with this training, and we are ready with this training,” Pevkur said,” I believe that we will see quite soon F-16s in Ukrainian skies.”




Germany to buy new Leopard tanks in €843m defence order 

Germany plans to buy 18 battle tanks and 12 self-propelled howitzers from domestic manufacturers Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann as part of an order worth a total of €843-million to replace equipment sent to Ukraine.

The purchase, which also includes spare parts, is expected to be approved by the budget committee in the lower house of the German Parliament on Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter and defence ministry documents obtained by Bloomberg.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government will pay €525.6-million for the Leopard 2 tanks and €190.7-million for PzH 2000 howitzers, according to a defence ministry paper. The supply of spare parts for the Leopards is worth €126.6-million. The first tanks are to be delivered in 2026 at the latest, said the people, who asked not to be identified before formal approval.

The deal is a first step with Germany seeking to secure options for 105 Leopard tanks in a deal worth up to €2.9-billion. DM


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