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It will take “several months at best” to get F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday.
The administration has provided few details of the plan to equip the Ukrainian Air Force with the US-made jets or other fourth-generation aircraft after President Joe Biden announced on Friday the US would support a joint training effort, such as who will provide the aircraft or where it will take place. US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners in Europe.
“It’s been in the works, and there’s obviously been interest from Ukraine in getting that kind of capability,” Kendall told reporters at the Defense Writers Group. He said there are “a lot of open possibilities, including our partners.”
Kendall said it would take at least “several months” before Ukraine would have the capability to operate F-16s, and a number of details have to be worked out before Ukraine’s air force will be able to fly Western jets in large numbers.
“We are not under any circumstances going to get F-16s or another Western fighter in significant numbers into the hands of the Ukrainian Air Force in something less than at least several months,” Kendall said.
But it’s still a relatively rapid timeline, since it normally takes more than two years to train a new US pilot on the aircraft, according to an Air Force official. Even a refresher course for an F-16 pilot who has stepped away from flying the jet for a period can take up to five months.
Publicly, the US had argued for months that fighter jets were not at the top of the priority list and would quickly drain the available funding for Ukraine aid instead of more important weapons like Abrams tanks and Patriot missiles. Kendall described what appeared to be a sudden about-face for the Biden administration as a decision that it was the right time to begin preparing Ukraine’s military for the future.
“Ukraine is going to remain an independent nation,” said Kendall. "It’s going to need a full suite of military capabilities for its requirements, and so it’s time to start thinking longer term about what that military might look like and what it will include.”
The Freedom for Russia Legion – a group that has claimed responsibility for an apparent incursion inside Russian territory in Belgorod – posted a video on Monday evening that appears to show the so-called flag of free Russia flying over Moscow State University.
In the video of the incident, which the Legion did not directly claim responsibility for, balloons appear to lift the blue-and-white-striped flag above the university's main building.
"Thanks to those who support and wait for us!" said The Freedom for Russia Legion's caption Telegram. "'L' [Legion] For Russia! For freedom!"
Other videos posted by The Freedom for Russia Legion appear to show another Russian opposition flag flying over various areas of Moscow, carried by blue and white balloons.
CNN could not independently verify the reports.
The blue and white flag has been used by several anti-Putin Russian opposition groups and has become more widely used since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The eastern Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Marinka continue to be the "epicenter of fighting," according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Monday.
Twenty five "combat engagements" took place around Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka, the update said.
"Fighting for the city of Bakhmut continues. The occupiers carried out air strikes near Bakhmut and Ivanivske," the General Staff said. "Ukrainian defense forces repelled numerous enemy attacks near the town of Marinka. In addition, Pobieda village in Donetsk region was shelled by the enemy."
Russian attacks hit residential apartment buildings, private houses, a kindergarten and other civilian infrastructure facilities, injuring some civilians, according to Ukraine's Armed Forces.
"They continue to destroy civilian infrastructure near the contact line" in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions, according to the update. The daily report also highlighted the "massive missile and air attack at Ukraine’s civil and critical infrastructure facilities," which struck the city of Dnipro, the city of Zaporizhzhia, and settlements in the Kharkiv region.
Earlier on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian forces who are defending the country's skies.
"From last night to this morning, they have shot down 25 Shaheds (drones). 25 out of 25. An excellent result," Zelensky said in his daily address. "Each such downing means saved lives, saved infrastructure."
The Russians are expected to hold a hearing this week about extending Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s pre-trial detention, a source familiar told CNN.
Gershkovich, who has been designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department, appeared in court in April to ask that his pre-trial detention be under house arrest rather than in jail. That appeal was denied, and he was sent to Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo Prison until May 29.
The expected hearing this week will be about extending his pre-trial detention beyond May 29.
It is unclear if Gershkovich will appear in person, as he did in April.
Several people were hurt in an attack on the Belgorod region in Russia, near the border. Ukrainian officials say it was carried out by a group of Ukraine-aligned Russian nationals who crossed into the country.
Meanwhile in the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, the leader of the Russian mercenary company Wagner claimed his men had captured the town — a claim Ukraine has denied.
Here's what you need to know:
- Attacks on Belgorod: At least eight people were hurt in attacks on Russia's Belgorod region, the governor there said. Vyacheslav Gladkov said “a sabotage and reconnaissance group” of the Ukrainian army had crossed into Russian territory and attacked the town of Grayvoron. Groups called the "Freedom of Russia Legion" and "Russian Volunteer Corps" claimed the attack. Russian forces were working to push out the group of saboteurs in what it's calling a "counter-terrorist operation," the governor said.
- What Ukraine is saying: The attack in the town of Grayvoron was carried out by a group that was “part of the defense and security forces" in Ukraine but acting as “independent entities” in Russia, according to Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency. He confirmed the group was made up of Russian nationals.
- Border strikes increasing: Strikes in the Belgorod region appear to have intensified in recent weeks, according to claims by Russian officials. Earlier this month, Gladkov claimed two drones had detonated and fell over a residential area in the region. He added that no casualties were reported, but two residential buildings and a car were damaged. Another drone was shot down by Russian air defense systems over the region, he said.
- Battle for Bakhmut: Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed his troops have captured “all the territories they promised to capture, to the last square centimeter" in the eastern city of Bakhmut. He confirmed reports from Russian-backed officials that their forces had started to demine the city. But Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Maliar said Ukrainian forces were still in control of some buildings in the southwest of Bakhmut and are advancing on the city’s flanks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also denied that Bakhmut is fully occupied by Russia.
- Missing Ukrainians: Search teams found 50 bodies of missing people in the past month alone in formerly Russian-occupied areas, including the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, a Ukraine official said. Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs said about 23,000 people have been officially deemed missing since the start of Russia's invasion.
- Push for fighter jets: Ukraine’s quest for US-made F-16 fighter jets received a huge boost when US President Joe Biden gave his backing for Kyiv’s pilots to be trained to fly them. Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov claimed that the US “continues to fan the flames of conflict” and that providing Ukraine with jets allows the US to oppose Russia “with other’s hands, by proxy.”
The situation in Russia's Belgorod region "remains extremely tense" Monday following an attack from what Russia has called a group of saboteurs that crossed into its territory from Ukraine, the governor of the region said.
"A sabotage and reconnaissance group, the Ministry of Defense and all law enforcement agencies have entered the territory to carry out combat missions to protect our country," regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a live-streamed address from the Graivoron district.
Gladkov said that the Belgorod government is "completing a house tour of the border villages" and in the town of Graivoron to ensure the safety of the local population.
He added that "most of the population left the territory" with personal transportation and the local government is providing transportation for those who do not have the opportunity to leave on their own.
The head of the district Gennady Ivanovich Bondarev is working with the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the police to evacuate people, according to Gladkov.
The governor previously said eight people were injured in the attack.
Ukrainian search teams found 50 bodies of missing people in the past month alone in areas formerly occupied by Russian forces, a Ukraine official said.
Ukraine's Commissioner for Persons Missing in Special Circumstances Oleh Kotenko said the bodies were discovered in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions. The commission is still searching de-occupied territory for possible graves, according to Kotenko.
Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs said about 23,000 people have been officially deemed missing since the start of Russia's invasion.
"Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of people have been reported missing. The vast majority of them have been found. However, about 23,000 people have been officially confirmed as missing under special circumstances as a result of military operations," the Ministry of Internal Affairs said earlier this month as it launched a register of missing people.
At least eight people were injured in an attack in Russia's Belgorod region, the governor there said Monday.
Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a video live stream there were no deaths among civilians in Belgorod.
What happened: Earlier on Monday, Gladkov said several people were injured with shrapnel wounds in an attack in the town of Graivoron. He also said shells hit an administrative building in Belgorod and damaged three residential buildings, which caught fire. A shell also hit a kindergarten in the neighboring village of Zamostye, where another woman was injured, he added.
A Ukrainian official acknowledged that the units that had carried out an operation in the area were part of the defense and security forces of Ukraine, but insisted they were acting independently. “We can confirm that this operation was carried out by Russian citizens,” Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency, told CNN.