"Ukraine may strike Russian territory with Dutch F-16s, but we should be realistic." An interview with Kajsa Ollongren

Wednesday, 12 June 2024 — , European Pravda

A new government will soon be sworn in in the Netherlands. The pro-Ukrainian team headed by Mark Rutte is stepping down.

Is there confidence that the new government will continue to back the Armed Forces of Ukraine? Will Ukraine receive F-16 fighter jets, and what will be the rules for using them?

We have discussed this with Kajsa Ollongren, the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands, who visited Ukraine again this week. The minister's forecasts are very optimistic. She also promises to continue focusing on Ukrainian issues. "As a minister of defence, it is probably my last visit to Ukraine, but I will of course be the ambassador for Ukraine, and I will encourage the next government to continue with the support for Ukraine as my government has done," she emphasised.

We have recorded this candid conversation at the Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. We highly recommend watching this interview.


"He will be forced to continue to support Ukraine"

You are stepping down as the Defence Minister, while we still need the support of the Dutch people and government. Are you sure that the next government will follow your work and fulfil commitments to Ukraine?

In principle, yes. There will be a new coalition, but they have agreed on continuing the support for Ukraine.

And what is also important is that my ministry has all kinds of contracts in place and a budget reserved for continuing support for Ukraine. And we, of course, are in different projects and coalitions like the F-16 coalition and the drone coalition, and we're working on Patriots.

So these projects are ongoing, and they will continue.

We know well that a leading party [far-right PVV led by Geert Wilders. – ed.] in the new coalition is perceived as Ukraine-sceptic, to say the least.


It also harms our expectations. What makes you so optimistic towards future engagement?

Because I see there is very broad political support in Parliament for supporting Ukraine and very broad support in our society.

People feel very strongly about the war in Ukraine and that we have to show solidarity with Ukraine.

Ukraine is a partner country of the European Union and NATO. Even if there is one right-wing populist party that is not that enthusiastic, I think the others will be able to force them to continue to support Ukraine.

Ten months ago, we already met in Kyiv. Back then, you said that it would take six to eight months to supply F-16s and train Ukrainian pilots. The planes are still not here, though. What has been the obstacle?

That’s not really an obstacle. I think we are on track now. We do this together with our partners – with the Ukrainians that have to be trained, with Denmark, the Americans and other partners. We are on a track, which is really a fast track – much faster than anybody else has ever done at the training on F-16s.

So, as from this summer, I expect that the first F-16s will actually be delivered to Ukraine, and from there on, in a constant flow, by increasing the number and strengthening the Ukrainian Air Force.

So when?

I cannot be exact. That's why I say this summer, and that is the path that we are on now.

Denmark will be the first country to provide airframes and we will follow after Denmark, but it's a joint effort.

It's also up to Ukrainian defence forces to prepare infrastructure. Is that already in place?

I think we are also on track and Ukraine is on track. That's very important because, like you said, it's about the pilots, it's about the maintenance personnel, it's about the airframes themselves and the equipment that they need, but it's also about the infrastructure in your country.

But this is a partnership, and it's a joint effort. Ukraine is also on track to receive the F-16s.

"F-16s may also strike Russia"

It is important not only to have the jets but also to use them, including to strike targets on Russian territory or in Russian airspace. Can we do that?

Yes, because once you use the airframes, you will decide. Your military will decide how to use them.

You are fighting a war against an aggressor. It is a war of self-defence. We have always said that as long as it's self-defence, so Article 51 of the UN Charter. Ukraine acts in compliance with international humanitarian law. You can also target military objects necessary for self-defence that are on the other side of the border.

That is possible, but it's a military decision.

Some other countries do not allow the use of all their weapons beyond Ukrainian territory. With the F-16, it's even more complicated: although they are being transferred to us by Denmark and the Netherlands, their manufacturer is the USA. So who has to give such permission?

There always has to be permission from the United States for the donation itself.

And then for use?

And then, different countries have different perspectives.

But I have also urged my partner countries to look at the result if you restrain Ukraine in using certain weapons on only the Ukrainian side of the border.

It sometimes means that Ukraine is literally fighting with one arm on its back!

And that's dangerous! We don't want Russia to win. We want Ukraine to win.

We need to give you every possibility that you feel is necessary to win this war. And that can also be to engage on the other side of the border, because you are also attacked from that side of the border.

So no US restrictions would be applied to these jets for using their weapons outside of Ukraine?

I can only decide on what we donate, and we donate the aeroplanes themselves.

The F-16 family of aircraft is actually very diverse. Which modification will we receive? How "long-range" will the radar be?

I think we should not disclose everything. It is not necessary for the enemy to know all the exact technical details. All the airframes that we donate will be up-to-date and will be what you need, and of course there are all kinds of technicalities, but I think it's better not to disclose them.

"We are looking into donating more Patriots"

Do you expect that provision of these jets will change the situation on the frontline?

I've always said: I don't think that the F-16s in themselves will be the big game-changer in the war.

But I do believe that the F-16s will make your air force and also your air defence much stronger. And when used in an integrated way also with other capabilities, it will strengthen the position of Ukraine on the battlefields, absolutely.

But there is never, in a war, only one weapon that can change everything. It is always how you use the weapon, and we know that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been very creative and have also used innovative weapons, for instance, on the Black Sea and chased away the Russian Black Sea fleet.

So it's a combination of this, and in the end, it is also about people.

So no expectation of air superiority of Ukraine after we get the jets?

The jets will be phased in. You have to first use them to see the effect, and at some point it will make the Air Force much stronger, and it might also create air superiority.

But it's not something that can happen overnight when you get your first F-16s. So if people expect that, I think we have to be a little bit more realistic.

Is it realistic for our partners to "close the sky" over the western part of Ukraine? This request is still valid. It would allow the Lviv airport to reopen. Western instructors could train the Armed Forces of Ukraine right here in Ukraine.

We're now, amongst the partners of Ukraine, discussing what we need to do more or differently compared to what we have done so far.

There has been a pushback from the Russian side.

I think we have all seen that: difficulties at the front, the new opening of a new front and continuous air raids. Also now with the gliding bombs.

So that's very difficult.

We need to strengthen air defence. That's why we're also looking into donating more Patriots.

I know that Ukraine would also profit from more training in Ukraine.

Everything has to be on the table, and everything has to be discussed. And we will always find the right solution that works best for Ukraine.

When you say everything has to be on the table, does it also imply the possibility of using Western jets with Western pilots to defend the Ukrainian sky?

No, I think at this point there is a war; Ukraine has been invaded by Russia. It's a war between those countries.

But we provide support – military support, training, weapons, and ammunition – to Ukraine. And we have to see how we can be more effective in that way.

Closing the sky could also be done by Ukrainians when you have a stronger Air Force.

But never say never. You never know in the future what the right step is to take.

"It's not a question whether Ukraine will become a NATO member"

You have mentioned drones. The Netherlands is already helping Ukraine get and manufacture them.

We see that drones play a vital role in the war, both for reconnaissance and attack.

We are going to invest around 60 million euros. 20 million goes through the fund in the drone coalition led by Latvia. We are also going to invest in Ukrainian-produced drones like sea drones.

Also, we are going to invest in Dutch capabilities, but we always try to connect them to Ukrainian industry in that way. So you profit from the drones, your companies can scale up, and we also learn from how you use the drones on the frontline. It’s because we also need to strengthen our armed forces and learn from what is happening now with all these new techniques in real war situations.

It could be a reason for NATO to have Ukraine as a very experienced ally in waging war

Yes, absolutely!

But, unfortunately, we don't see our Western partners being ready to even invite Ukraine to NATO.

But you are already invited! Last year in Vilnius, we all agreed that Ukraine is a partner of NATO. We have a NATO-Ukraine Council. And we have also agreed that Ukraine will become a NATO member.

It's not a question of whether Ukraine will become a NATO member, but only when.

Despite all Biden’s statements that he does not see Ukraine in NATO?

That is the question of how and what steps you need to take until you can actually become a member.

It’s like with the European Union. You know you're a candidate country. You have to go through a certain procedure, but in the end, you will be an EU member.

Do we have to win to join NATO?

Well, that would certainly help (laughing)

What is the victory for you?

It's up to Ukraine to say what victory is. You are fighting the war.

We recognise your borders. We support your territorial integrity. We also support the peace summit that is coming up this week. It is vital that Ukraine, in all its sovereignty, can decide for itself: what is peace?

I don't see at this point, from the Russian side, any attempt to start a dialogue or a discussion on peace, whereas Ukraine has taken this initiative.

So unfortunately, that means that the war will probably be longer than anybody wants.

But it is Putin who could stop the war today. Because if you stop today, then there will be no Ukraine tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I don't expect it to happen either this year or next year.

It is realistic to consider the possibility that this could go on for a long time. We have to do everything we can to strengthen your armed forces and your country to be able to resist Russian aggression.

What should happen for Putin to lose?

He sees that in the whole global world, in the global society, he has very few friends.

He depends now on support from a country like North Korea, although North Korea is the most isolated country in the world.

We also have to insist that countries like China [understand] that we cannot let this happen; that might makes right. We also need to convince other countries that it is in our interest. If we want to have global order, peace and security, Russia does have to take a step back. That's what's necessary, combined with the resolve that you are showing in Ukraine to continue for as long as it takes.

To be frank, I don't expect Putin to give up his idea. He is obsessed with it.

Yes, but at some point, he sees how much he is losing. And he is losing many lives of young people.

He has turned his economy into a war economy, which means that the economy functions, but only for that part. So people in Russia will also suffer from this war.

And in the end, he's not winning very much.

We must make sure that time does not play for Vladimir Putin. We will have to show that our resolve is very strong and that we will continue supporting Ukraine for as long as necessary.

I'm sure that the Netherlands would do that. Thank you for supporting Ukraine. Thank you for staying with our country.


Sergiy Sydorenko, editor

Video by Volodymyr Oliinyk

English version by Daria Meshcheriakova

European Pravda

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