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Russia says F-16s to Ukraine would raise question of NATO involvement

FILE PHOTO: NATO holds an air display event in Poland

(Reuters) - The transfer of F-16 jets to Ukraine would raise the question of NATO's role in the conflict and would not undermine Russia's military goals, senior Russian diplomats said on Monday.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday endorsed training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy assured Biden that the aircraft would not be used to go into Russian territory.

"There is no infrastructure for the operation of the F-16 in Ukraine and the needed number of pilots and maintenance personnel is not there either," Russia's ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said in remarks published on the embassy's Telegram messaging channel.

"What will happen if the American fighters take off from NATO airfields, controlled by foreign 'volunteers'?"

Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said any transfer of the U.S. jets to Ukraine would be "absolutely pointless and stupid", state-owned news agency RIA reported.

"These efforts are completely useless and meaningless: our capabilities are such that all the goals of the special military operation will certainly be achieved", Ryabkov was cited by RIA as saying, using Moscow's preferred term for the conflict.

CRIMEA

Antonov also said that any Ukrainian strike on the Crimea region would be considered a strike on Russia.

"It is important that the United States be fully aware of the Russian response", Antonov said.

Ukraine has intensified its strikes on Russian-held targets especially on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Antonov also reiterated a Russian accusation against the United States of subjecting Western countries to its agenda.

"Washington completely subordinated the G7 members to its own policy regarding the conflict in Ukraine," Antonov said, adding that the United States wanted a "strategic defeat" for Russia.

During their summit on the weekend in Japan, the G7 countries signalled long-term support for Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who also attended the gathering, said he was confident that Ukraine would receive supplies of the F-16.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February last year, has increasingly portrayed what it calls its "special military operation" as a campaign against the West.

Ukraine and its Western allies call Russia's action an unprovoked war to grab land.

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Stephen Coates and Frank Jack Daniel)