Dutch deliver three more F-16s for training Ukrainian pilots in Romania

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits Netherlands

By Bart Biesemans

FETESTI, Romania (Reuters) -The Netherlands on Wednesday has handed over another three F-16 fighter jets to a training facility in Romania, where Ukrainian pilots and ground staff are being taught to fly and maintain the planes in battle.

The Netherlands has been one of the driving forces behind an international coalition to supply Ukraine with F-16s to strengthen its air defense against the Russian invasion.

Denmark, the Netherlands and the United States expect to deliver the first of dozens of F-16s to Ukraine within a few months after establishing the pilot training programme and donating aircraft.

"We hope to start this summer and we hope to see the first Dutch planes going there in the autumn," Dutch Defence minister Kajsa Ollongren said after the handover of the planes in Romania.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the donation a "breakthrough agreement" last year and said the planes would strengthen Ukraine's air defences and help its counter-offensive against Russian forces.

But U.S. officials have privately said the jets will not be a game changer when they eventually arrive after months of training, given the strength of the Russian air force and its defense systems.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin last month said the F-16s would not change the situation on the battlefield and would be shot down by Russian forces.

"We shouldn't be in this kind of game of saying how much is destroyed, because I think that then the Ukrainians have a bigger success than the Russians," Ollongren said.

"The problem is that Russia is continuing this illegal war in Ukraine at the cost of enormous numbers of human lives, also on their side. We have to step up and increase our support to Ukraine."

The Dutch had already delivered eight of the promised total of 18 F-16s to the training facility since November.

They have also promised to deliver a total of 24 F-16s for use in Ukraine, with the first ones expected to arrive in the second half of the year, adding to earlier deliveries of the aircraft by the Danish armed forces.

The Dutch government last week said it would increase military support to Ukraine to a total of 3 billion euros ($3.19 billion) this year and has earmarked the same amount for 2025.

($1 = 0.9396 euros)

(Reporting by Bart Biesemans; Writing by Bart Meijer; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Daniel Wallis)