Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he had received “powerful support” from allies attending a summit in Moldova as it emerged F-16 fighter jets could be made available to Ukraine within six months.
Closing the conference of 46 European leaders held at a castle 12 miles (19km) from the border with Ukraine, the country’s president spoke of the importance of overturning Russian’s supremacy in the air with a “sky shield” involving a combination of Patriot missiles and F-16s.
He also won support from Rishi Sunak in his battle for accelerated membership of Nato.
“Why Patriots? Because Patriots have shown the world they can take down any kind of Russian missiles. Our proposal is to build a sky shield over the European continent. It’s important to build it for the whole of Europe, starting with our territory,” he told reporters at the European political summit in Chișinău.
After an 11-year-old and her mother and another woman were killed in overnight missile attacks on Kyiv, Zelenskiy said the “protection of our skies” was vital because it would first and foremost protect the people of Ukraine and “our children”.
Several countries, including the UK, Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands and Belgium, have said they want to help procure F-16s for Ukraine. The US president, Joe Biden, endorsed training programmes last month for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, but the training will take months to complete and western countries have not yet said they will supply the jets.
Senior sources involved in the F-16 coalition said the jets could be operational in six months’ time and be useful during the war or as a stabilising factor in a postwar scenario.
The Dutch and Polish prime ministers progressed the timeline for delivery of the planes during a roundtable discussion that also included their Danish, Belgian, Norwegian and Swedish counterparts.
The Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said the meeting had gone very well. “We agreed to train Ukrainian pilots. Of course the UK does not have F-16s, but you have fighter jets and Rishi Sunak agreed to participate in the training exercise for Ukrainian pilots, training also for the logistics around these F-16s, the maintenance, introducing them to the Ukrainian aircraft system. We all agreed the next steps.”
Russia has said that providing Ukraine with F-16s would be a “colossal risk” for western nations.
The Moldova conference gave Zelenskiy an opportunity to see most of his main allies in one afternoon after he drove to the summit from an overnight visit to Odesa.
Sunak said: “I agree with the Nato secretary general that Ukraine’s rightful place is in Nato and what we are also talking to Ukraine about right now is making sure they have all the support they need for a successful counteroffensive.”
The British prime minister said he was proud of the UK’s record in supporting Ukraine. “We want to make sure we put in place security arrangements for Ukraine for the long term, so we send a very strong signal to Vladimir Putin that we are not going anywhere, we are here to stay and we will continue backing Ukraine – not just now but for years into the future,” he said.
Zelenskiy’s plea for security guarantees for his country and Moldova came 24 hours after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, had called on the international community to make a “tangible and credible” offer.
Such guarantees were in the rest of the continent’s interest, he said. “We have to build something between the security provided to Israel and full-fledged membership,” he said.
Zelenskiy did not give details of the proposal but said he was in talks with “the US and other partners about the security guarantees compact”.
“We do we need them because we are not in Nato. If we were, Russia would not attack us”.