Latvia to Spearhead Drone Coalition to Bolster Ukraine

The growing list of military aid to help shore up Ukraine’s air defenses comes as Russia vows to respond if NATO air bases are used by Ukrainian F-16s.

Ukraine’s defense minister Rustem Umerov (left) met with Latvia’s minister of defense Andris Spruds Wednesday. [Courtesy: Ministry of Defense, Republic of Latvia]

Latvia will spearhead a new drone coalition to help bolster Ukraine's defenses against Russia, according to defense leaders of both countries.

The news is the latest in a growing list of aid funneling into Ukraine more than 21 months after Russia launched its invasion and also comes as a Russian official issued a warning for NATO air bases supporting defense operations in the war-torn country.

"In order to support Ukraine in an increasingly important field of warfare, we will form a drone coalition," Andris Spruds, Latvia's minister of defense, said on X (formerly Twitter) following a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Wednesday. "We will also continue military support and training of Ukrainian soldiers."

The support could also include cooperation between the two countries in strategic communication and countering disinformation, Spruds added.

Ukraine defense minister Rustem Umerov said he was grateful for Spruds' initiative. "After all, the development of this war proves that the superiority in capabilities in this area is often decisive on the battlefield," Umerov told Ukrainian news service Ukrayinska Pravda.

Nordic Support Grows

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a surprise trip to Oslo, Norway, on Wednesday to meet with leaders of  Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark. The five Nordic countries have collectively provided about 11 billion euros in aid to Ukraine since the war began in early 2022, according to Reuters.

Citing the Russians' frequent drone and missile attacks, Norway's ministry of defense announced Wednesday it is donating NASAMs, or National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, air defense systems to Ukraine valued at approximately $30.6 million. The donations will come from the Norwegian military's own reserves, according to the country's ministry of defense.

"The equipment can be sent within a relatively short time and will be crucial to strengthening the air defense against Russian attacks this winter," Norway defense minister Bjørn Arild Gram said in a statement. "These are challenging assessments, but Ukraine has significant needs for support, and it is crucial for everyone's safety that Russia does not succeed in its warfare."

Following the meeting, the Danish government made plans to present a 7.5 billion Danish kroner ($1.1 billion) package to its parliament that would provide military aid including drones, ammunition, and tanks, the Kyiv Independent reported. The country has already provided $3 billion in military aid. Finland pledged it will double its production of heavy ammunition, and Sweden announced a 1.4 billion Swedish krona (about $135 million) in nonmilitary aid to support Ukrainian civilians during the upcoming winter.

A Vow to Respond

A Russian official took aim at international support of Ukraine, which has recently also included resources for training and equipping its pilots with F-16s, by vowing to respond should any NATO air bases be used for Ukrainian combat sorties. 

Last month, the defense ministries of Romania and the Netherlands opened the European F-16 Training Center (EFTC) at Romanian Air Force 86th Air Base to train pilots from Romania and Ukraine. At the time of the opening, five Dutch F-16s had been delivered to the center and the Netherlands pledged to provide up to 18 F-16s for flight training.

[Courtesy: Ukrainian president Volodymr Zelenskyy]

"We already hear comments that, amid the significant destruction of Ukraine’s airstrip infrastructure, the F-16s handed over to Ukraine may carry out their missions from air bases in Poland, Romania and Slovakia," Konstantin Gavrilov, head of a Russian delegation attending the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Forum in Vienna, said Wednesday in a Russian news agency Tass report. Should this occur, Russia would consider those countries to be participants in the war, which would prompt it to resort to  "response measures," Gavrilov said.

'The Whole World is Watching'

On Tuesday, Zelenskyy met with President Joe Biden and U.S. lawmakers in Washington, D.C., in a whistle-stop tour lobbying for Congressional support to pass supplemental funding to aid Ukraine's military.

"The threats to America, to Europe, and the world will only keep rising if we don’t act. And I intend that we act," Biden said, adding that he had signed off on an additional $200 million drawdown from the Department of Defense for Ukraine.

Airmen from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron load military equipment bound for Ukraine into a commercial aircraft during a security assistance mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, on January 20, 2023. [Courtesy: U.S. Air Force]

The United States has committed nearly $50 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the war, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. 

"The whole world is watching us," Zelenskyy said Monday in a speech addressing the National Defense University in Washington. "Ukraine hasn’t given up and won't give up. We know what to do, and you can count on Ukraine. And we hope, just as much, to be able to count on you."

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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