Putin Is ‘Serious Threat’ to Eastern NATO, Ex-Defense Official Warns

Russia poses a “serious threat” to eastern NATO countries after Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning about F-16s in Ukraine on Wednesday, a former U.S. Department of Defense official said.

In August, Washington authorized its allies to give Ukraine the U.S.-made planes, equipped with more modern avionics and radars that would hand extra capabilities to Ukraine’s Air Force, which relies on Soviet-era MiG and Sukhoi jets.

A group of 14 countries has pledged to deliver the F-16s and help Ukraine with training. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian foreign minister, said on Wednesday that the planes should be arriving in the coming months, according to Reuters.

While visiting the 344th Army Aviation Centre for Combat Employment and Retraining of Army Aviation Pilots, Putin was asked about F-16s and if Russia would be “allowed to hit these targets at NATO airfields.”

“First, if they supply F-16s (they are talking about this, and it looks like they are training pilots; I believe that you realize this like no one else and better than others), this will not change the situation on the battlefield. We will destroy their aircraft just like we are now destroying their tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, including multiple launch rocket systems,” he said, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website.

Putin continued, “Of course, we would see them as legitimate targets if they operate from the airfields of third countries, no matter where they are located. F-16 aircraft can also carry nuclear weapons, and we will also have to heed this while organizing our combat operations.”

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his press conference in Moscow on March 18. Elbridge Colby, former U.S. defense offical, on Thursday said eastern NATO is facing a “serious threat” from Russia amid Putin’s F-16…

Elbridge Colby, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development under ex-President Donald Trump’s administration, took to X, formerly Twitter on Thursday, saying, “We shouldn’t take Putin at his word. Far from it. I believe Russia is a serious threat to Eastern NATO.”

Continuing, Colby said, “But it is noteworthy that Moscow eschews aggressive action against NATO while China publicly reserves the right to military action against Taiwan.”

Anton Gerashchenko, former adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, also posted to X about Putin’s F-16 warning: “Putin said Russia would shoot down F-16 aircraft if they are used from third-country airfields to target Russia.

“And yet, Ukraine is still discouraged from striking legitimate military targets on Russian territory—to protect ourselves,” Gerashchenko said.

During the same visit on Wednesday, Putin was asked about defense spending in other countries: “According to our information, our defense spending amounted to 3.5 percent of GDP,” Putin replied when discussing 2022.

Putin continued: “But the difference is even more remarkable in absolute figures. In 2022, the U.S. defense spending amounted to $811 billion, if memory serves, and Russia spent $72 billion. The difference is more than tenfold. The United States’ defense spending amounts to about 40 percent of the global figure, or more precisely, 39 percent, while Russia accounts for 3.5 percent. Considering this difference, are we planning to fight NATO? This is nonsense.”

U.S. President Joe Biden authorized $768.2 billion in military spending in 2022 by signing the National Defense Authorization Act, reported the Associated Press.

Newsweek reached out to numerous experts for comment via email on Thursday.