In response to the increasing Russian threat around Ukraine, the Netherlands is sending two F-35 fighter aircraft to Bulgaria. The Hague is also open to supplying weapons to Kiev and is considering sending military instructors.
The two F-35s will participate in a NATO mission that has been ongoing for years to monitor the skies of Eastern Europe. At the same time, the fighters are a response to the “worrying Russian troop build-up on the border with Ukraine,” Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren (D66) wrote to the House of Representatives on Thursday. The Netherlands also offers an amphibious transport ship (including landing craft and helicopters) and two ‘land-bound units’ (Ollongren does not specify which) for the NATO Response Force.
On Thursday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra (CDA) said in the House of Representatives that the Netherlands is open to “defensive military aid” (arms supplies) to Kiev. The Netherlands is also considering participating in ongoing military training missions in the country. Minister Hoekstra and Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) will visit Ukraine in the short term.
Tensions on the Ukrainian border, where Russia has gathered more than 100,000 troops, have increased in the past week. US President Joe Biden said he expected a Russian invasion on Wednesday. Although Moscow has denied having any plans for invasion, the Kremlin warns almost daily about the risk of escalation from increasing NATO troop build-up and ‘aggression’ from Ukraine. Negotiations between Moscow and Washington, including on a ban on further expansion of NATO, have not yet yielded anything. This week, British military transport aircraft flew large numbers of anti-tank missiles into Ukraine.
Also read: If Russia invades Ukraine, what would that look like?
It is the first time that the F-35s, the successor to the Dutch F-16s, are deployed. In 2001, the cabinet decided to participate in the development of what was then called the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). This US mega project has been plagued for years by delays and cost overruns. Partly because of this, only 46 aircraft can be purchased, instead of the planned 85. The first F-35s were only flown to Leeuwarden in 2019. Last December, the squadron at the airbase reached the Initial Operational Capability (IOC), which means that a maximum number of four aircraft can be deployed abroad for a shorter period of time. The two F-35s now deployed will operate from Graf Ignatievo Air Base in Bulgaria and will cooperate with the Bulgarian Air Force.
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A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 21 January 2022
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 21, 2022