Athens, Greece (AFP) —
Greece will help train Ukrainian F-16 fighter pilots and help with the Odesa reconstruction effort, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Monday.
“Today we have an important result (meeting) for the air coalition: Greece will take part in training our F-16 pilots. Thank you for this offer,” Zelenskyy, who stood with Mitsotakis on his official visit to Athens, told the media.
Kyiv on Friday welcomed the US decision to allow Denmark and the Netherlands to provide their F-16 fighters to Ukraine once pilots have been trained to use them.
Training by a coalition of 11 countries will begin this month and officials hope the pilots will be ready by early 2024.
Greece has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia invaded the country. Greece provided humanitarian aid and weapons, including infantry fighting vehicles, Kalashnikov assault rifles, launchers and ammunition.
Mitsotakis on Monday said Greece would be “present in the massive effort to reconstruct and rebuild” Ukraine, with “particular emphasis on Odesa.”
This Ukrainian port city dating back to the early 19th century was the birthplace of a secret Greek revolutionary organization that helped spark the 1821 revolution against Ottoman rule in Greece.
Zelenskyy himself ended his trip to Europe, having previously made stops in Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.
His visit to Athens coincided with an informal dinner hosted by Mitsotakis with Balkan leaders, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council Chair Charles Michel.
The Greek prime minister’s office said the meeting marked the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Thessaloniki summit, which confirmed a European perspective on the countries of the Western Balkans.
The Ukrainian president earlier posted on Telegram that he would attend a joint meeting and have separate meetings to discuss bilateral issues with Balkan leaders, as well as meet the president of the European Commission.
Other meeting participants were the presidents of Serbia, Moldova, Montenegro and Romania, the prime ministers of Kosovo, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia, as well as the chairman of the council of ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mitsotakis’ office said in a statement.
Greece, historically a Russian ally bound by centuries of tradition and the same Orthodox Christian beliefs, under Mitsotakis’ leadership has shifted and firmly condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Last year, Greece expelled a dozen members of Russia’s diplomatic and consular missions and took in thousands of Ukrainians and their families.
In April, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov visited the Greek capital for meetings with Nikos Panagiotopoulos, then Greece’s defense minister.
Reznikov, at the time, said that after the war was over, Ukraine would seek Greek assistance to demine the Sea of Azov and develop the country’s navy.
Greece has also offered to rebuild a maternity hospital in Mariupol that was bombed last year.
In April 2022, Zelenskyy delivered a televised speech at a special session of the Greek parliament calling for aid for Mariupol and Odessa, two Ukrainian cities that have had large ethnic Greek populations for centuries.
The session was attended by head of state President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who rarely makes such public appearances. Zelenkyy was greeted with a standing ovation by the ministers and members of the Greek parliament.
The Greek Communists and a small nationalist party boycotted the event. (rd/lt)