Finland’s prime minister on Monday said that she was open to discussing giving fighter jets to Ukraine, despite facing criticism at home, as Kyiv has pleaded for more advanced weapons systems.
Kyiv has called for fighter jets, specifically American-made F-16s, arguing they would be crucial to defending against Russian missile strikes and drone attacks.
While Finland is currently operating a fleet of F/A-18 Hornet jets, it announced in December 2021 that it was ordering 64 F-35A multi-role fighter jets from US contractor Lockheed Martin.
“We have new F35 fighters coming… When these old Hornets are decommissioned, we can discuss their future use,” Prime Minister Sanna Marin told reporters Monday.
However, while Finland plans to replace the jets — the model of which entered into production in the 1980s — the new aircraft are not due to arrive until 2025.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Western governments have stalled on President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s appeals for aircraft, mostly because they fear that deliveries of ultra-sophisticated warplanes would stoke tensions with nuclear-armed Russia and escalate the conflict.
But experts have noted that red lines in other areas have shifted, including the initial opposition to delivering heavy tanks, which was dropped in January.
While some European nations have softened in their stance even on fighter jets, US President Joe Biden declared in an interview with ABC News in February that Ukraine “doesn’t need F-16s now.”
Marin already sparked controversy at home when she told reporters that she was open to discussing the matter during a visit to Kyiv on Friday.
“I think we can have a discussion about the Hornets, whether it would be possible to hand them over to Ukraine, and what kind of training they might need alongside them,” she said.
“No decisions have been made,” Marin stressed and added that such an initiative would need international cooperation.
Her comments, which came only weeks before a general election scheduled for April 2, sparked criticism after local media reported that she had not discussed the matter with the country’s president or defense minister.
Petteri Orpo, head of the leading opposition party the National Coalition, told broadcaster Yle that Marin’s statement was “careless” and that she made a promise that “cannot be fulfilled.”