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Netherlands 'seriously considering' sending F-16's to Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Zelenskiy addresses the Dutch parliament via video link

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The Netherlands is "seriously considering" sending F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine but has not taken any final decision yet, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday.

Earlier this week the Netherlands said it wanted to start training Ukrainian pilots in flying F-16's as soon as possible.

Asked if the Netherlands would send fighter jets to Ukraine, Rutte told a news conference no final decision had been taken, but added that "if you start training it's obvious that is something you are seriously considering".

Any decision on sending F-16s was dependent on approval from the U.S. to do so, Rutte said. He added that the Netherlands would potentially have fighter jets to pass on as it was currently phasing out its F-16's.

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According to figures from the Dutch defence ministry the Netherlands currently has 24 operational F-16's which will be phased out by mid-2024. Another 18 of the jets are currently available for sale, of which 12 have been provisionally sold.

Last Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden endorsed training programmes for Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy assured Biden that the planes would not be used to cross into Russian territory.

The West says it wants to help Ukraine defeat Russia but has repeatedly insisted it does not want to trigger a direct confrontation between the U.S.-backed NATO military alliance and Russia.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg and Bart Meijer; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)