- The Netherlands is sending up to 42 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine to help aid its war against Russia.
- The announcement was made at Eindhoven Airbase, where victims of the MH17 tragedy were repatriated.
- However, experts say that the possibly symbolic move was mostly pragmatic.
Nine years ago, a solemn ceremony took place at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands.
The event marked the arrival of the first bodies of the victims of flight MH17, which was shot down over Russian separatist-controlled territory, killing all 298 passengers, including 196 Dutch nationals.
The Malaysia Airlines Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight was blown out of the skies by proxies loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2014, who had seized The Donbas region from Ukraine — today the fulcrum of some of the most bitter battles of Russia’s 2022 invasion. Indeed, in February, prosecutors at The Hague said they had found “strong indications” that Putin had approved using the Russian BUK missile system to shoot down the plane.
At the same airbase on August 20, the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed that the country will send up to 42 F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine following the US’s announcement that it had approved the transfer, Reuters reported, in what was perhaps a symbolic nod to the 2014 tragedy.
“I think our government drew this connection really clearly. Because they hosted Zelenskyy at the same airfield where the bodies of these passengers of MH17 were brought when they were brought back to the Netherlands,” Chris Colijn, a Ukraine expert at Dutch media company RTL Nederland, told Insider.
Colijn said the tragedy also helped Dutch people contextualize Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“In 2022, when the war started, I would say it really clicked with people. That Russia is the same country that shot this plane out of the sky, and it’s the same country that has now invaded Ukraine,” he said.
‘The Netherlands will do everything it can to ensure justice is done for Ukraine’
The Netherlands has been openly supportive of Ukraine in its war against Russia, while Rutte has also made a possible link to flight MH17 before, saying in a statement on the conflict: “Ever since the downing of flight MH17 we in The Netherlands have known that justice doesn’t come automatically.”
“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.
But while the delivery of F-16 jets may seem symbolic, Colijn said it was largely a pragmatic move.
Others agree that there are likely other motives behind the move.
Piet Ploeg, chairman of the MH17 Disaster Foundation, tragically lost his brother, his sister-in-law, and his nephew in the crash.
But he told Insider “Dutch F-16s for Ukraine are not revenge for MH17.”
Ploeg said the Netherlands’ position on the war against Ukraine should not be purely reactive to the MH17 tragedy; it was simply a case of trying to help fight Russia’s invasion of another sovereign nation.
“The international community has to react to the aggression of Russia. And I think it’s really important that our government and the international community are supporting Ukraine,” he said.
The Netherlands’ stance on Russia
Paul van Hooft, Senior Strategic Analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, explained how the Netherlands’ approach to Russia had evolved since 2014.
He said that the Dutch were initially reluctant to antagonize Russia, even in the midst of MH17 — but this changed following its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, when they began to take a more hardline stance.
But van Hooft said it was surprising how little MH17 was invoked in the Netherlands’ decision-making on Russia, and he said Dutch politicians had failed to capitalize on the parallels and the symbolic nature of the invasion and the flight.
“Dutch politics is not really prone to this kind of big gesture,” he said, adding that the symmetry was neat, especially as the F-16s will be used for air defense.
Van Hooft added that the F-16s, which cost around $63 million each, could be the most significant war donation from the Netherlands. “I’m not sure what we have left that is that is as spectacular,” he said.
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