Zelenskyy pushes the Netherlands to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in meeting with Rutte, De Croo
There is no reason to wait any longer to train Ukrainian pilots, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a press conference with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. The three met on Thursday during Zelenskyy's surprise visit to the Netherlands, before the Ukrainian leader met with King Willem-Alexander.
Zelenskyy used the meeting to again urge the Netherlands to train Ukrainian pilots so they can operate fighter hets. “There is no rational reason to postpone such a decision to train our pilots.” Zelenskyy argued that it would ultimately strengthen Ukraine's air force and "speed up the peace we all long for."
Rutte acknowledged that the Netherlands is still open to training pilots to use aircraft like the F-16, and said there are "no taboos," and no subject about aid to Ukraine is off the table. The F-16 is produced by Lockheed Martin in the United States. Typically, the country where a military product is made has final say if an item can be transferred from one country to another. As such, the decision to supply the fighter jets, and train pilots on them, ultimately rests with the Americans, sources told newswire ANP.
Back in January, the Dutch Cabinet said it would investigate whether it could supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets and Leopard 2 tanks. Later in the month, Rutte, U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron said they were not yet ready to provide the jets to prevent escalating the war. Rutte said that Ukraine had not formally requested the fighter jets, a situation which changed a few weeks later. While Slovakia has since supplied MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the F-16 deal has not happened. The Leopard 2 deal was completed with approval from Germany, where the tanks are made.
Rutte opened the press conference pledging to do everything possible to bring justice to Ukraine now 62 weeks after Russia intensified its invasion of the country. “This is an unjust war against everything we stand for. This is a war against freedom, democracy, and the world of law in our part of the world. That is why we stand with the Ukrainian people, and why you can count on our unwavering support. Russia cannot win this war, and it must be held accountable for all the crimes of aggression and the injustice it is inflicting on the people of Ukraine day after day in this horrific war,” Rutte said.
“Ever since the downing of flight MH17, we in the Netherlands have known that justice doesn’t come automatically,” Rutte continued. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian Buk missile over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Some 298 people were killed on the flight, which had departed from Amsterdam, and half of those on the aircraft were Dutch citizens. “The Netherlands will do everything it can to ensure justice is done for Ukraine, however long it takes, and however difficult it may be,” he added.
Rutte said Zelensky's visit “could not have come at a more symbolic moment,” as it coincides with the commemorations of May 4 and 5. “Tomorrow is Liberation Day, we are fortunate that we can celebrate that we have been a free country since 1945.” He continued by saying, “After so many years, it is easy to take peace and freedom for granted, but every day the brutal Russian aggression against Ukraine reminds us that the rule of law is not a given. It needs protecting when threatened, and defending when attacked."
The Dutch prime minister was wearing a lapel pin featuring a torch symbol, referencing the Liberation Flame. Traditionally, Liberation Day festivities in the Netherlands commence at midnight on May 4th with the lighting of a torch in Wageningen, the location where the World War II capitulation documents were signed in 1945.
Zelenskyy called it "a special honor" to be invited to the Netherlands on this special day. He reiterated that he wants “to bring peace closer” and “restore justice" for the invasion of his country. The Ukrainian leader thanked the Netherlands for the military aid brought to Ukraine. "The patriots and other weapons provided by the Netherlands have already saved thousands of Ukrainian lives,” he said.
De Croo said that “It is now our turn to help Ukraine to get rid once again of a cruel and illegal occupation. The kind of occupation our countries have endured during the Second World War.” He said that his country would prepare “a new package of military aid for Ukraine” and announced that the seized 200 million euros of frozen Russian assets would be used to assist Ukraine. According to de Croos, using Russian money to rebuild a country they are destroying makes perfect sense, both economically and morally.
The Belgian prime minister ended his speech with "Slava Ukraini," which translates to "Glory to Ukraine."
On Thursday morning, Zelenskyy gave a speech at the World Forum in The Hague to press a case against Russia's "crime of aggression" by invading Ukraine and asked Dutch people honoring the country's Remembrance Day on Thursday to also take a moment to think about those killed in Ukraine. Earlier, he also spoke to representatives of the Dutch parliament, where he said he was grateful for their support, including military aid, and the country's leadership in pushing for an investigation into allegations of war crimes that have taken place in Ukraine.