Interview
from
Fabian Busch

Since mid-November, the Ukrainian military has been training in Romania on F16 fighter jets from the Netherlands. The Dutch government actively supported Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia from the very beginning: with arms supplies worth 2.1 billion euros. But now there is a change of government in The Hague – and the election winner Geert Wilders refuses to supply weapons to Ukraine.

The current Minister of Defense of the Netherlands, Kaisa Ollongren, hopes for continuity: there is still support for Ukraine in parliament and among the population, she says in an interview with our editors at the Dutch Embassy in Berlin.

Ms. Ollongren, the Netherlands has been very strong in supporting Ukraine from the very beginning. It appears that this course has caused less controversy in your country than in Germany. Why?

Kaisa Ollongren: We have always made our motives clear. Ukraine was invaded by Russia and has every right to defend itself. This is impossible without the support of partners. Therefore, assistance to Ukrainians is justified: weapons, ammunition, training. Ukrainians are fighting this war. However, this is a war in Europe – the largest since World War II. So it also poses a threat to the rule of law, democracy and everything we consider important in the European Union. Putin must understand: aggression is not rewarded.

Do you think the message has become clear?

In any case, it is surprising: after more than 600 days of war, Putin has not achieved a single goal. Finland became a member of NATO, Sweden almost became. Ukraine is literally sitting in the waiting room of the EU and NATO. This raid only strengthened our unity in Europe.

Do people in the Netherlands think so too?

I still experience full support for Ukraine in the Netherlands. Of course, people are worried about the war itself and the security situation. But we want not to be drawn into this war. This is why containment is so important.

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Kaisa Ollongren: “At first the Germans were a little hesitant”

In Germany, the federal government is under pressure from two sides. There are people who reject arms supplies. But there are also many voices that consider the government’s position to be too hesitant. How do you perceive your German partners?

At first the Germans were actually a little hesitant. But they quickly overcame this hesitation. Together we delivered a self-propelled howitzer in 2000, and Olaf Scholz made a clear political choice with his landmark speech. I can understand political and social discussions – they go a little differently in Germany than in other countries. We must make this clear again and again: if we do not want to be drawn into this war ourselves, we must ensure that Ukraine wins it.

But it doesn’t look like it will happen quickly. Also because arms deliveries from the West take a long time.

We have put forward an initiative to supply a large number of tanks, but this alone will not win the war – Russia has laid too many mines for this. This war takes time. Making decisions takes time. It also takes time to organize supplies and train Ukrainian soldiers. Ammunition production also needs to be increased. But it takes months and months. It’s not so much a question of whether we need to do better, but a question of delivering on our commitments and maintaining support.

However, in the Netherlands your government has just been rejected. Geert Wilders won the election with his PVV. He wants to stop arms supplies to Ukraine – for example, the supply of F16 fighters.

Yes, that’s exactly what he said. However, the new parliament still has an overwhelming majority in favor of supporting Ukraine. The PVV party alone does not have a majority. I expect that our commitments will be fulfilled and that other parties will not support Wilders’ line. The Netherlands has taken on an important role in the F-16 coalition along with Denmark and the United States. This supply is very important for Ukraine, as well as for our credibility and unity that we want to radiate. We will continue to deliver results as a government of the day and I expect Parliament to support that.

Wasn’t Wilders’ electoral success also a vote of no confidence in your Ukraine policy?

No. In fact, all ruling parties lost significantly in these elections. In the summer we had a political crisis because the coalition could not agree on a common migration policy. This crisis was not really necessary, but it led to new elections too soon. Our coalition partner VVD has also seen a change in leadership as Prime Minister Mark Rutte retires from politics. This is how I explain this election result. It has nothing to do with international events and the war in Ukraine.

About the interlocutor

  • Kaisa Ollongren was born in Leiden, the Netherlands in 1967 to a Swedish mother and a Dutch father. She studied history in Amsterdam and attended the French administrative college ENA. Having held civil service positions in several ministries, she became interior minister for the social liberal Democrats 66 party in 2017 and then defense minister in Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government in January 2022.


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