1. 'It's clear Ukraine needs F-16s – for the long term'
  2. 'Inviting foreign pilots to Ukraine is a great idea'
  3. Russia's certainly not going to want to take on NATO
  4. 'I'm a former Republican. It's embarrassing for me that Mr Trump's from my party'
  5. 'I am less worried about Ron Desantis'

The F-16 issue has finally moved forward: Ukrainian pilots are about to begin training, and Ukraine’s allies are deciding how, when, and how many fighter jets to give.

Adam Kinzinger, an ex-US Air Force pilot and former Republican congressman, was one of the first who pushed for providing Ukraine with F-16s.

Last summer, as Ukraine finally started to get Western artillery capabilities not even dreaming about tanks or fighter jets, Mr Kinzinger was already meeting with Ukrainian pilots in Washington and lobbying a bill to allocate USD 100 million for their F-16 training.

He is also one of the main critics of Donald Trump and voted for the former US president’s second impeachment, and last November, decided not to run for Congress again.’s Marko Syrovoi spoke with Mr Kinzinger about F-16s and their role in the Russo-Ukrainian war, Mr Trump and other Republican contenders for the presidential nomination ahead of the 2024 election.

'It's clear Ukraine needs F-16s – for the long term'

Mr Kinzinger, you were one of the first American politicians who promoted training for Ukrainian pilots on the F-16s as far back as last summer. Why did you do it? Was it clear to you that Ukraine couldn't win without F-16s?

I think Ukraine can win without them because there is nothing that can match the spirit of defending your home. And there’s nothing that can match having a national identity which Mr Putin has given to the Ukrainian people – that unity.

But I think it's clear that Ukraine needs F-16s, even if not for the immediate war – for the long term. The Sukhois, the MiGs – they've all been kind of pushed through the system and obviously, Ukraine won't get any new ones of those.

And so we need to be thinking long-term not just in ensuring that this war ends in Ukrainian victory, which we need to ensure, but also ensuring that Ukraine is set up for the future.

And obviously, Ukraine is going to be a very important partner for us in the future, and that means NATO standard equipment like the F-16.

A number of countries are now taking the F-16s out of service, replacing them with more modern F-35s. Do you think Ukraine should also think about F-35s after our victory?

I think certainly, but I think right now the F-16 is still going to be a very important aircraft.

In fact, a lot of units in the United States are still going to be flying F-16s far into the future. Fifth generation fighters, like the F-35 – their advantage is stealth and being able to loiter and control drones, for instance. But in terms of dropping munitions, the F-16 and the F-35 can both do that pretty well.

So I think, maybe in the long term it's worth thinking about F-35s for Ukraine. They're expensive. Even a lot of our allies don't have them.

But I think in the short term and near term, the F-16 is going to be a very important fighter, probably for the next 20 to 30 years, though.

Mr Kinzinger, which American politicians are the main lobbyists for fighter jets for Ukraine – can you name maybe two or three of them?

Ted Lieu is a Democrat from California who's been pushing this issue a lot with me when I was in Congress. And he's continued it since I've been out of Congress.

There have been quite a number of politicians that have pushed us. I think of Mike McCall, for instance, the chairman of the [House] foreign affairs committee.

I wish when we called for this a year ago that it would have started because I think had it actually started then, Ukraine would be flying F-16s today. But there's no time like the present.

We have shown, and it's been reported now, that Ukrainian pilots can be trained on an F-16 very quickly. Look at Poland, for instance, that flies both Russian equipment, the MIGs, and also F-16s, and they're purchasing F-35s.

So the Ukrainian pilots – I've met with a number of them in Washington – they're obviously very good. They have the skills – that's quite obvious – it's just learning the differences, and a number of us have been pushing for that.

And we need it to start today. Because every day that goes by is one day longer until Ukraine can probably defend itself in the skies.

The F-16 is a game changer that ‘puts the fear of God in the enemy’, US ex-pilot says
Photo via Adam Kinzinger / Twitter

'Inviting foreign pilots to Ukraine is a great idea'

How long can it take to train Ukrainians on F-16s?

[For] an experienced pilot, it looks like from the reports we've read that we can do that in about three to four months. I actually think you could, in an emergency situation, make a Ukrainian pilot competent for the F-16 quicker than that.

But what we have is different levels of training. So there's the level of somebody that comes in that just barely knows how to fly or somebody that flew a different aircraft. And so we have a certain course that is four months long that we believe experienced Ukrainian pilots can fit into.

And the question for Ukraine is how many of those pilots can you afford to take out of the fight during that training. That's only a question Ukraine can answer.

I'm sure at this point there's more experienced pilots than there are aircraft available. So I don't think it would damage Ukraine's ability to defend itself as it's spinning these pilots up to fly the F-16.

Ukrainian defence minister Oleskii Reznikov offered experienced pilots from Western countries to fight on Ukraine’s side on F-16. What do you make of Mr Reznikov’s idea and do you think any one of those experienced Western pilots would agree to do that?

I think it's a great idea. I think it's possible.

Now, if you look at people that are skilled pilots in the United States, for instance – let's say they're out of the military now; many of them have gone to work for airlines and so they have jobs. So that's a difficult thing and those that frankly have the training that don't have jobs and flying, there's not many of them.

But I think it's an amazing idea to offer up to people. There are a number of pilots that come out of the military that decide not to go to the airlines. I know a friend of mine who I flew with in the military is actually Ukrainian. And he would love to come do something like that. So I think it's a great idea.

And if you look back to World War II, prior to the US entry into the war, there were a number of American pilots that actually went to the UK and flew for the UK against the Germans, even before the US entered the war.

Russia's certainly not going to want to take on NATO

Why do you think it took so long to make a final decision on F-16s?

Russia has done a good job of convincing people they're more powerful than they are. And Russia has constantly put down so-called red lines: First off it's, we don't want Patriots and we don't want F-16s, we don't want Abrams tanks.

But Russia can declare a red line and it doesn't enforce it. And I think there are people that somewhat understandably are nervous about escalating this war.

But the reality is, the Russians have no interest in expanding this war to NATO. They can't beat Ukraine. They're certainly not going to want to take on NATO.

It took a while to get people away from this kind of conservative view of ‘we'll do a little bit, but not too much’ to finally realizing that if this war ends in a stalemate, it's not good for anybody. It has to end with Ukraine regaining territory and having victory against Russia.

What was the key factor in the final decision on F-16s? Was it the successful work of Patriots in Ukraine, or the depleting stockpiles of missiles for Soviet-era systems, or was it just a political decision?

I think it was everything.

One of the concerns we had in Eastern Europe for a while was, how do we put Eastern Europe on NATO equipment when they have all this old Russian equipment? That obviously has been pushed through to Ukraine now, so we've been able to speed up that outfitting.

But Ukraine is running out of Russian material. They're obviously not importing anything from Russia. I think that's been important.

I think the public pressure [was important, too]. Your politicians, your leaders, your military, and frankly your citizens on Twitter have been continually ringing this bell for F-16s. And finally the pressure was enough for the administration to move on this.

Frankly, the Brits making the decision to move forward as well put a lot of pressure on the US administration.

And finally, just the skilled work of Ukrainian pilots. I mean, look, the thing that has impressed me about Ukrainians – and I have a number of Ukrainian friends even before the war, so it's not a surprise – is just the ability of Ukrainians to adapt, to overcome, to engineer, and to do things in the right way.

And so there's no doubt that a skilled Ukrainian pilot trained right can fly an F-16 and do it successfully. And I think once those pilots that went through proved that they had what it takes, there was no way to resist after that anymore.

Everyone in Ukraine knows that you were a pilot, too, taking part in missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. You saw with your own eyes what American air superiority can give on the battlefield. So, will the F-16 be a game-changer for Ukraine on the battlefield?

I think it will be a game changer – whether that's in this immediate war, because my hope is the war is over by the time F-16s even come into play or for the long term defence.

Let's look at the long term. Ukraine with F-16s will certainly prevent Russia from opening up this war again. Ukraine with F-16s in this war [will be] maintaining air superiority, which is quite important.

Everybody in Kyiv remembers the opening stages of the war when you didn't have air superiority and how horrible that was.

It's also multi-roll, so the F-16 can do both air-to-air engagements but also air-to-ground. Now the US military has been set up to not fight significant artillery battles. We go to war and we use a lot of air power and some artillery.

The old Russian way of fighting is, as you've seen, a lot of artillery. And that's why we haven't been able to keep up with the artillery demands of Ukraine because we weren't built for that.

So if Ukraine can get a multi-roll fighter that can deliver missiles onto bad guys in Ukrainian territory that will alleviate some of the need for artillery. It will be very accurate.

And I gotta tell you, the F-16 puts the fear of God in the enemy, and it will break the morale of the Russians even further.

'I'm a former Republican. It's embarrassing for me that Mr Trump's from my party'

Let's talk a bit about politics. President Zelenskyy said that he wants to win before the US presidential elections. What threat do you see for Ukraine from the upcoming elections and, obviously, from Donald Trump?

Well, it's a concern. I think Donald Trump… I don't necessarily think he's anti-Ukraine. I just think he doesn't really know what he's doing. As you all have seen, there's this weird strain of people on Twitter, on the Internet. It's kind of like this nationalist, far-right thing that Russia has really tapped into.

I am concerned that if Donald Trump wins, he's going to stop the support for Ukraine or at least wind it back.

Now, two things. First off, I think the war will be over with Ukrainian victory by that time. But secondly, I also think the US public still very much, very strongly, even in the Republican party, supports Ukraine and a Ukrainian victory.

So while this is a concern – and I think the Ukrainian people, your politicians are right to address this – I don't think it's something you should lose sleep over.

I also don't think there's a chance that Donald Trump wins again. Of course, I said that though in 2016, so who knows?

Mr Trump is now facing a criminal investigation. You also were a member of the January 6 committee. Do you think those investigations can end his career as a politician or not?

Well, I think they'll certainly damage him. Maybe, within the Republican Party it won't affect it because people are just so committed to Donald Trump that they see any investigation as an attack by the ‘deep state’. Who knows?

But we still win elections in this country based on who the majority of people vote for. And there is not one person that I think didn't vote for Donald Trump in 2020, that would then vote for him in 2024.

So these investigations will continue even if in just a little way to peel off his support. And so I think it makes his potential election almost untenable.

If Donald Trump collapses in the party and somebody like Ron DeSantis or Tim Scott or Nikki Haley or any of these people become the Republican nominee, then I think there will be very strong support for Ukraine because, as you all well know, typically the Republican party has been very hawkish against Russia.

This is a weird moment that I think dies when Donald Trump goes away.

Are those investigations against Donald Trump making him more toxic for Republicans and, more broadly, for American citizens who support the party?

I think it's very true. He's more toxic, I think, around the world. I'm a former Republican. It's embarrassing for me that he's from my party. I consider myself a John McCain Republican, which is very different than Donald Trump.

So there is a certain level of toxicity in. And I think there's a lot of anger right now. And it's not just in the United States, it's, really strangely, in politics all around the world. But this is a moment that we can get through.

And it's something that I think Ukraine should take to heart, which is, democracy is messy. And there will be very bad days in every democracy.

January 6th in the United States was a bad day for US democracy. Maidan was a good day for Ukrainian democracy. So there's days that are good and bad. Democracies aren't defined by those days. They're defined by if they can be resilient and come back from those moments.

I strongly believe the US will come back stronger from what's been happening. And I strongly believe that Ukraine, after winning this war, will be a very strong democracy that can have differences in a healthy way.

What's the old saying I heard like, ‘If you put two Ukrainians in a room, they'll create three political parties’. What I've been inspired by is watching in the trenches in Ukraine, somebody who was an artist fighting next to a machinist, somebody from the city fighting next to somebody from the country.

It's really been inspiring for those of us that appreciate democracy to see what it takes to actually defend it with your life.

'I am less worried about Ron Desantis'

You talked about Ron DeSantis. He's considered Mr Trump’s main opponent. But he has already failed once on the Ukrainian issue, and then made excuses. So do you see any risks for Ukraine also from Ron DeSantis?

I see some risks.

I know Ron De Santіs; I served with him in the House of Representatives. I think [that was] his knee-jerk reaction, so his kind of normal feeling is on the side of Ukraine.

I think he has been so concerned with winning the election that he's just trying to say whatever people want to hear.

That's bad leadership, by the way. Leading by just doing what people want you to do, that's not leadership that's following. And so he has stumbled on that.

I am less worried about Ron Desantis when it comes to Ukraine, certainly than I am about Donald Trump.

Are there any other opponents to Donald Trump in the Republican party?

So there are some really good candidates and it's going to be tough for them to win. But if these investigations take him [Donald Trump] down. It'll be a wide open field.

Asa Hutchinson is the former governor of Arkansas, a very good kind of traditional Republican. I would consider him like me.

Same with Tim Scott. Tim Scott is an African American US Senator, an amazing story, a very good-hearted person, and very much understands and appreciates the plight of Ukraine, and I think the US would stay strongly engaged.

Nikki Haley, who we all know from the United Nations, is very much a Russia hawk and has made this a very big part of her campaign.

The F-16 is a game changer that ‘puts the fear of God in the enemy’, US ex-pilot says
Nikki Haley. Photo via EPA

And so there's going to be others getting involved, to Chris Christie, who I don't think has a chance, but would also be pro-Ukraine.

I don't think there's really any other threats in the GOP and the Republican party of anti-Ukraine sentiment than Donald Trump and a little bit Ron DeSantis.

And what about you? You did not run for Congress and are now working with your Сountry First movement. Would you please say to the Ukrainians what are your goals and ambitions?

The United States does a good job around the world of building democracy, of teaching people about democracy. But I feel like we've kind of lost touch with that here.

Growing up in the United States, you assume that democracy is kind of automatic, right? It's always going to happen. And January 6th really woke us up to the fact that, you know, you can lose it.

And so I've created Country First, which is all about putting the country, you all know this very well now, putting the needs of the country above the needs of the party.

You have a former rival and a current president who are getting along right now. They hated each other, but for the sake of Ukraine, they're getting along and that's an inspiration to us.

So Country First for me is about, I don't care if you're a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent. If your goal is to do the right thing for the country over your party, then you belong.

And I would look forward someday to actually being able to bring Country First into Ukraine and talking with people there about it. I think it would be exciting.

Sounds great. I hope we will see Country First in Ukraine. And what about you? One day, do you think you will run again for Congress?

Yeah I mean I'm open to it. So I served for 12 years. I was very young when I got elected. I was 32. I'm 45 now. And I liked it.

It's hard to be in politics. It's hard to be in government. And now I have a young kid, a fairly new wife. So it's nice to be able to focus on my family, but I know this is not getting out of my system. And so I would not rule out running for governor or Senate or even possibly the presidency someday.

But no matter what I do, I'm going to stay involved in politics and continue to pay attention and support the good people of Ukraine and their fight.