U.S. President Joe Biden told leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized countries that Washington was prepared to work with its allies to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, according to White House sources, even as G7 nations announced fresh sanctions against Russia for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials confirmed on May 19 that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due to personally attend the G7 meeting in Hiroshima following his surprise visit to the Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia.
Multiple Western news agencies cited top U.S. administration officials as saying that Biden told his G7 counterparts that training on the F-16 fighter jets — which are far more effective than the Soviet-era jets Kyiv currently has — would take place in Europe and likely start in the coming weeks.
The training will begin even before decisions are made on when, how many, and which nations will provide the jets for Ukraine, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he welcomed Washington’s move on the training of Ukrainian pilots and tweeted that Britain will “work together with “the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark to get Ukraine the combat air capability it needs.”
Denmark’s Defense Ministry said it “will now be able to move forward for a collective contribution to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16s.”
Kyiv has urged the West to step up supplies of military aid, including deliveries of the more-sophisticated F-16 fighters, as it prepares for its widely anticipated counteroffensive.
On the sanctions front, the G7 leaders said in a joint statement that the fresh sanctions will impact “exports of industrial machinery, tools, and other technology that Russia uses to rebuild its war machine.”
The statement said the group would continue to work to diminish Russian revenues from its trade in metals and diamonds.
A U.S. announcement said Washington was slapping new sanctions on Moscow to “increase costs” for Russia and those that help it conduct its war against Ukraine.
“The United States will continue to take actions against Russia until it ends its brutal and illegal war against Ukraine. The United States is implementing commitments made at the G7 Leaders’ Summit to increase costs for Russia and those who support its war effort,” a statement said.
“Among others, these commitments include further disrupting Russia’s ability to source inputs for its war, closing evasion loopholes, further reducing reliance on Russian energy, squeezing Russia’s access to the international financial system, and keeping its sovereign assets immobilized.“
Earlier in the day, Britain announced new sanctions against 86 Russian citizens and legal entities aimed at advanced military technologies and imports of diamonds to cut Moscow’s “sources of income.”
G7 leaders said that their “support for Ukraine will not waver” as they vowed “to stand together against Russia’s illegal, unjustifiable, and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”
In Ukraine, a senior security official said Zelenskiy would attend the G7 summit in person.
“Very important things will be decided there and it is therefore the presence of our president that is absolutely essential in order to defend our interests,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, told state television.
Zelenskiy will attend the gathering on May 21, the third and final day of the summit, according to two unnamed Ukrainian officials involved in the arrangements for the G7 cited by Reuters.
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Meanwhile, Zelenskiy arrived on May 19 in the Saudi city of Jeddah to attend an Arab League summit.
He told the gathering that “we are pushing the occupiers out of our lands…we will never submit to any foreigners or colonizers.”
“Even if there are people here at the summit who have a different view on the war on our land — calling it a conflict — I’m sure that we can all be united in saving people from the cages of Russian prisons,” Zelenskiy said.
Al-Hadath TV, a Saudi-owned TV station reported that Zelenskiy traveled to Jeddah on a French government plane.
Russia has continued to batter Ukrainian cities with air and missile attacks amid an apparent stalemate in the fierce fighting for the control of the eastern city of Bakhmut.
Kyiv was again targeted by Iranian-made drones overnight — the 10th attack since the start of the month — but all of them were destroyed by the capital’s air defenses, Serhiy Popko, the head of the Kyiv military administration, said on May 19.
“With such tactics, the Kremlin is trying to exhaust our air defense, as well as to psychologically influence the civilian population,” Popko said.
Separately, Ukrainian air defense said on May 19 that it had shot down 16 drones and one cruise missile overnight, without specifying the location.
WATCH: A team of RFE/RL journalists joined Ukrainian troops as they began attacking near Bakhmut on May 11 and fitted a soldier with a bodycam to record a firsthand view of battle.
Russia carried out 39 missile strikes and 39 air strikes as well 50 salvoes from rocket systems across the Ukrainian front line over the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian military said early on May 19.
In Washington, a Pentagon spokeswoman said that a Patriot missile-defense system damaged in a Russian air strike on Kyiv several days ago was repaired.
“What I can confirm is that one Patriot system was damaged, but it has now been fixed and is fully back and operational, Sabrina Singh told a news briefing.