Ukraine Needs F-16s 'Now'—Putin 'Exhausted' But Clock Ticking: ex-President

Ukraine needs "game-changer" weapons including F-16 fighter jets to press its counter-offensives against Russian troops and pile pressure on an "exhausted" Vladimir Putin, Ukraine's former president Petro Poroshenko has said.

In an exclusive interview from Kyiv, Poroshenko urged Ukraine's Western backers to help end the war before 2023 begins and to ignore threats of escalation from the Kremlin.

"I think we definitely need to end the war before the end of the year," Poroshenko told Newsweek.

"That's why we don't have a year to supply F-16s and two years to supply Patriots. We should talk about days. Because a year, or years, can completely change the whole situation in Europe. It is completely dangerous for the whole world."

Poroshenko led Ukraine from 2014 to 2019 before being unseated in the populist groundswell that brought President Volodymyr Zelensky to power. He sits a distant second to Zelensky in 2024 presidential election polls.

Poroshenko faces treason charges which he calls politically motivated. The ex-president told Newsweek he and Zelensky agreed an informal truce when Russia invaded in February.

Greek F-16 during parade in 2021
An Hellenic Air Force F-16 is pictured during a military parade in Thessaloniki, Greece on October 28, 2021. Ukrainian leaders have urged the U.S. to provide modern fighter jets like the F-16 to help Kyiv defeat Russia's invasion of the country. SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP via Getty Images

Military assistance from European Union and NATO nations has been vital to Ukraine's resistance against the Russian invasion. Ukrainian forces are now preparing to go on the counter-attack in the south around Kherson with the help of modern long-range artillery systems from the U.S. and its NATO allies.

But Ukraine still faces daily missile strikes. Officials in Kyiv are demanding the West provide sophisticated anti-aircraft systems and modern fighter jets to close the skies to Russian missiles and planes.

"Game changers would be not only Leopard tanks or M777 artillery," Poroshenko said. "A game changer would be the F-16, because we can stop Russian dominance in the airspace."

"Anti-aircraft missiles could have the same effect as MLRS and F-16s," he added, referring to the American, British, and German long-range rocket systems that are corroding Russian logistics and defenses in the south and east. "We need it now, because we have a very narrow window of opportunity."

White House spokesperson John Kirby said last week that while the U.S. is discussing providing modern fighter jets to Ukraine, "It's not something that would be executed in the near-term."

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has already passed the Ukrainian Fighter Pilots Act, intended to train Ukrainian fliers on modern U.S. platforms including the F-16.

"While we don't have the F-16s, definitely we should launch the special program for the preparation and training of Ukrainian pilots in NATO air bases," Poroshenko said.

Western military aid has been ramping up since the start of this year. In the days after Putin launched Russia's second invasion of Ukraine in a decade, Western nations were hesitant to provide more than shoulder-launched anti-air and anti-tank weapons.

But the defenders are now outfitted with advanced systems like the U.S.-made HIMARS, long-range howitzers, tanks, and anti-aircraft batteries. An earlier push to provide fighter jets fell flat.

Asked if it was only a matter of time before Ukraine received F-16s, Poroshenko replied: "If you are not an optimist, if you do not believe in the true victory of your own country, you cannot be the commander in chief of the armed forces."

"Imagine that the more weapons we have, the shorter the distance to peace," he added.

Petro Poroshenko pictured in Ukraine 2022 invasion
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is pictured in Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 28, 2022. Mychaylo Palinchak/Office of Petro Poroshenko

Grinding offensives have won the Russians new territory in the eastern Donbas region but at great cost. Ukraine claims that more than 40,000 enemy soldiers have now been killed, along with thousands of aircraft, vehicles, and artillery pieces destroyed.

Analysts said earlier this month that Moscow was taking an operational pause to rearm and reinforce its mauled units, though small-scale Russian attacks are continuing in the east. At home, the Kremlin is raising volunteer battalions and other fresh units, though has so far refrained from ordering a general mobilization.

"Putin is exhausted," Poroshenko said. "And Putin wants to buy time to renew the capability of Russian troops for further attacks. This situation would not be possible for Ukraine to accept. We need to make our country free from Russian troops."

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry to request comment.

Moscow is continuing to leverage food and energy exports in a bid to ease international sanctions. With winter approaching and cost of living crises biting, the Kremlin is hoping that rising prices of vital goods will force European adversaries into concessions.

Poroshenko dismissed any concern of so-called "sanctions fatigue" among Kyiv's Western partners.

"There is not Ukrainian fatigue or sanctions fatigue. On the contrary, the steps of the Western leaders are becoming more and more decisive," Poroshenko said, suggesting that Western leaders are being driven by resolutely pro-Ukrainian voters.

"I definitely know one person in the world who is definitely demonstrating sanctions fatigue: Vladimir Putin," the former president said. "It is Putin who is very tired of Western sanctions."