Despite leading a new coalition to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 fighter jet, the Dutch prime minister was guarded Friday on committing to actually sending the aircraft to Ukraine.
“The decision to deliver F-16s, that has not yet been made,” Mark Rutte told journalists during a news conference. “Again, American permission first applies for this. If you’re going to train, it’s obvious that you would seriously think about it. But it has not yet been decided.”
President Joe Biden informed G7 leaders last week that the US will support a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth generation aircraft — a modern class of fighters that includes F-16s. The Biden administration has also signaled it would not block the planes' export, sources familiar with the discussions told CNN.
The Netherlands is leading the joint training mission, together with Belgium and the United Kingdom, Rutte said. There are additional European countries who have told the Dutch government they are interested in helping, he added.
Rutte said starting the training mission was important, but the discussion on actually sending planes should happen separately.
Rutte did acknowledge the Netherlands has a fleet of F-16s that it will no longer need, as it transitions to the fifth-generation F-35 fighter jet. But when pressed by a journalist, he refused to comment on any Dutch desire to send those planes to Ukraine.
“The Netherlands really does play, I think, a role that’s important at this moment in the whole question about Ukraine and weapons deliveries," Rutte said. "But we are not so big that we can afford to put out all kinds of releases through the media that might give other partners the feeling that, ‘Hey, we’re now being pressured through the media.’ That’s why we never say anything about it until it’s over.”