Sjoerd Wiemer Sjoerdsma, Dutch politician
He was among the champions in the Dutch Parliament toward adopting key decisions and resolutions supporting Ukraine and condemning Russian aggression.
31.03.2024 14:54

Sjoerd Sjoerdsma is a member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands (2012-2023), MP with the D66 political force. He became one of the most ardent supporters of comprehensive military support for Ukraine after Russia’s full-scale invasion. Among other things, he vocally advocated the supply of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine at an early stage of the war.

It should also be noted the resolutions on support for the creation of the Special Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine and the possibility of having it based in The Hague (October 19, 2022), on the recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism (November 24, 2022), and on the recognition of the Holodomor of 1932-1933 as a genocide of the Ukrainian people (July 6, 2023).

Sjoerdsma continues to actively support Ukraine and urges to continue to do everything for Ukraine's victory.


- Progressive Democrats from the D66 party during the 2016 Dutch referendum on the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement immediately and clearly expressed their position in favor of Ukraine. After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the position has never changed. You stood firmly on the side of Ukraine. What was February 24, 2022 like for you? Why do you think it is important to support Ukraine?

- Obviously, Ukraine deserves our material, financial, and moral support, whatever we can to help protect Ukraine from Russian aggression. And it's been a long time since we've seen such naked aggression, disregard of borders, disregard of human life, disregard of other people's culture. So I think for almost any politician in Netherlands there wasn’t any question on which side we were. We were firmly on the Ukrainian side. But I also think the Netherlands has a debt of honor when it comes to Ukraine because of the two things in the past. The first is the horrible referendum that we held on the Association Agreement with Ukraine in which the Dutch population voted. But I don't think they voted no because they wanted Ukraine out of Europe or they wanted nothing to do with Ukraine. No, it was because of a serious disinformation campaign and a lack of will from politicians to defend their points of view. I think we were the only party at the time to really campaign in referendum. We went all out, we printed flyers, we were in all cities with volunteers, explaining to people why this Association Agreement was a win-win both for Ukraine and the Netherlands. So we had something to make up for when it comes to our ties and the Ukrainian inspiration within Europe. Also, when it comes to MH17, I remember, after the first dark days of the downing of the plane, the strong outcry in the society to bring our loved ones back. They were shut down over a theater of war where Ukraine was fighting Russia – at the time, of course, they were called ‘pro-Russian separatists’. We all know that they were from Russia. And Ukraine was prepared to stop the fighting to allow the bodies of our loved ones to be retrieved. I think this was the gesture of such goodwill and such honor that I think it's almost a debt of blood for the society to return the favor. I was there when the bodies were flown back to Eindhoven by the Dutch and Australian military. I will always remember this.  

So I think those two things make for what the Netherlands has done and what it needed to do.

But of course, the invasion itself, so incredibly barbaric that there was also no doubt that we had to act.

- You’ve already mentioned the disinformation campaign during the referendum, and also there was also a lot of disinformation during the MH17 hearings. What do you think is the current situation of disinformation circulating in the Netherlands?

- I think we've had our share of Russian propaganda both from Moscow itself and also positioned secretly within our society. From Moscow, of course, we've seen ever since the MH17 was shut down, a true Avalanche of conspiracy theories pushed by formal sources and informal sources within the Kremlin. Supposedly, Ukrainian forces had shut down the plane because they were attempting to shoot down a plane carrying Putin, and then it was about a Ukrainian pilot shooting it down, and then it was a Ukrainian Buk system, not a Russian Buk system… So many conspiracy theories were pushed, and I think we saw the true nature of the Russian regime when we had a vote in the UN Security Council to establish a new tribunal on MH17 and the Russians vetoed that decision. And then it was difficult even for the most hardened Russian politicians to claim that Russia was not an involved actor. We have politicians here in Parliament who parrot Kremlin political narratives, who behave as if they are spokespersons for the Kremlin, who, if you look at Russian TV, almost, literally echo some of the arguments coming out of the formal spokespersons for President Putin. And of course, that’s very painful to see. These people position themselves as patriots but they are traitors to the ideals of Dutch society and to ideals that both Dutch and Ukrainians share: the ideals of freedom and equality.

- But still, in your opinion, what is the current situation with Russian propaganda in the Netherlands? Are there any pro-Russian members of parliament?

- In our latest elections, Geert Wilders’ PVV won, which think a very dangerous party, not only to Dutch society but also to European ideals and international law. I mean, if you look at their party leader Wilders, he traveled to Russia, proudly wearing a Dutch-Russian friendship flag, trampling on the feelings of MH17 victims’ families. Despite all the things that Putin has done, this party has consistently voted against military support to Ukraine, against assistance to Ukraine refugees, against Russia sanctions packages. So in that sense you could say that, if you were positioned in the Kremlin, what you need to have is the party that reuses your propaganda and that has become the biggest party in the Netherlands. Do you have anything left to do? Fortunately, there's still a large majority in Parliament and society who are not susceptible to this propaganda, who strongly feel that we should be hospitable to Ukrainian refugees, that support to Ukraine should be stepped up, and pressure on Russia should be increased. But it's dangerous because support for these cases is not broken all at once, you just scratch after scratch, up until suddenly people start thinking that this war has been going on for so long so why should we care anymore? People forget. Because we're far away. But we know that it’s “closer than Barcelona” and that Putin won’t stop. We looked away when he was attacking Georgia, there was one round of sanctions when he annexed Crimea. We believed his fairy tale stories about Russian separatists in Donbas for seven to eight years. He's not going to stop if we look away now, he's trying to continue with Ukraine and then he is going to move over to the Baltic States or somewhere else. So I think it's in our interest to stand against him.


- You actively supported the provision of military aid to Ukraine, in particular, the move to donate F-16s at an early stage of the war. Why has sending F-16s become such a complicated process? What has been done for Ukraine to finally receive them?

- I strongly believe that the Netherlands, Europe, the West should supply Ukraine with whatever it needs militarily speaking, whenever it needs it, and wherever it needs it. And unfortunately, what we've seen is that we've been drip-feeding the Ukrainian military instead of giving it what it needs. I don't think there was any NATO country that would send its troops to storm trenches without clear air support. So I think it's outrageous. We've taken so long to get the green light to send Ukraine F-16s. Because every F-16 that's not flying over Ukrainian skies means more chances for Russian helicopters, more chances for Russian jets, more chances for Russian missiles to land on Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. And I think it's very frustrating to see how long this has taken. We've advocated sending F-16s over a year and a half ago and of course we need to train Ukrainian pilots and there's a difference between Soviet-style jets and F-16s. That's true but we've seen Ukrainian soldiers adapt so quickly. I also understand logistically F-16s are a little bit different from howitzers and tanks because you need also a support crew of at least 30 people. These people also need to be trained and you need maintenance stations for these F-16s. So, yes, it is difficult, but it's been taking so much time for getting the green light from the United States. It’s taken so much time for the training to begin. I think we should have seen these planes over Ukraine a long time ago.

- Is it true that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte personally asked the U.S. to help Ukraine with the F-16 issue?

- During the meeting that you're referring to, I think we were stuck on the decision on whether to send Ukraine Leopard tanks, and as you probably remember, the Berlin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, opposed the move. And our argument was: okay, we definitely want to send those Leopards. We want to spend a lot of money buying Leopards for Ukraine. But we need to have Berlin on board. Otherwise things are not happening because they're producing the Leopards and they have the majority of the Leopards in Europe. And I think at the time, our prime minister talked to President Biden and told him that if the U.S. is prepared to send American Abrams tanks, it will be impossible for the German Chancellor to still say no to German Leopards. So that was the deal. It was like, ‘please do it even if it's difficult for the Americans, even if there are logistical challenges in getting those Abrams tanks into Ukraine, even if it doesn't make too much military sense, but it will allow us to get the Leopard tanks in at the time. But of course, there's been a lot of political and diplomatic conversations from the Netherlands with their American counterparts to get the green light for the F-16s and that has taken months of conversations to get the green light. But still, you know, they're not there yet.

- Do you know when F-16 fighter jets will finally arrive in Ukraine?

- I wish I knew. I know Ukrainian pilots are being trained in Romania. I know there's been a lot of work done in the logistical chain to ensure that the planes are there, but I don't dare predict when they're there.

If it were up to me, they would have been there two years ago but, apparently, it doesn't work that way.


- Returning to the election outcome in your country. How can the results of the early parliamentary elections affect the support from the Netherlands? After all, the far-right PVV (Freedom Party), led by Geert Wilders, is quite skeptical about supporting Ukraine? Considering the difficulty of forming a coalition, in your opinion, who could become the new prime minister?

- That's a very good question. I think if I had the answer, I would become a journalist of the year. In the Netherlands it is one of the most debated topics because, obviously, the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders has unfortunately become the biggest party, chosen democratically. Of course, his party is no friend to Ukraine but, unfortunately, very friendly to Russia. So, I think it's very important for us to neutralize his anti-Ukrainian policies and to ensure that Dutch support to Ukraine stands and will even be stepped up in the future. But as to a prime minister, I only know that Wilders himself is no longer a candidate to be prime minister. Fortunately. I think it would be very bad for a reputation of the Netherlands, very bad for our society. But I don’t know who will step up.

- Do you see Rutte as NATO’s next Secretary General?

- He's definitely throwing his hat into the ring. He's got the support from the United States, France, Germany, and the UK. So a lot of important countries have said that they support him. At the same time, I also understand the frustration in Eastern Europe and at the middle of Europe. After all, obviously, they'd been warning not only Europe, but also the United States for many years and decades of the danger that the Russian government and the leadership of President Putin poses to our freedoms in security. And it's, of course, difficult for them to accept that. The Dutch prime minister steadfastly ignored these warnings, unfortunately, because Nord Stream 2 was just a commercial project, according to him, and not a geopolitical constrictor that could do harm to Poland and the Baltic States. You know, he was not prepared to impose sanctions on the cronies of Putin before the war. He's a late adapter when it comes to perceiving President Putin as an existential threat. So I understand the hesitations and at the same time I also believe that the prime minister is very good at building bridges and building coalitions. And he's shown his steadfast support for Ukraine and his willingness to always take the next step and try and take other countries forward when it comes to howitzers, tanks, or the F-16 coalition. So he might be a good choice, including for Ukraine.

- What do you think about the results of Russian elections?

- Which elections? I mean, it's more of a special appointment procedure, as someone told me. These are not elections. These are sham elections. Anyone who could possibly be a competitor for President Putin has either been killed or pushed into exile. So there's no serious democracy in Russia at the moment. And I think that is a great tragedy for the world because it allows President Putin to continue his aggression, but it's also a great tragedy for the beautiful people of Russia who continue to be locked in, engaged into a society in which they have no rights.


- What is your opinion of the Special Tribunal in The Hague? Will we see Putin on the deck?

- Very good question. I’m a strong believer in a quote by Martin Luther King: “The Arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards Justice.” So it takes a frustrating amount of time for people who are responsible for atrocious crimes, such as President Putin. to have their day in court. But I also believe that persistence when it comes to years and decades perhaps will get him to court. I've worked in the Sudan before and nobody believed that president of Sudan at the time would face the ICC. Yet, this happened just a couple years ago.

- Do you see Ukraine in the EU and NATO?

- I think we're going to see Ukraine within the EU and within NATO, and why I believe it's so incredibly important is because the Ukrainian people have consistently shown these intentions – not just since the start of the war but over the past decade. I've been involved with Ukraine ever since 2004. And there's one shared characteristic between Ukrainians from 2004 and now – they desperately crave for the freedom, and rights, and democracy, and rule of law that the European Union has, and you've been willing to move towards those ideals even when the cost was high, when you had to demonstrate and people were shooting at you. When you wanted to free yourself from Russian influences and corruption, and Russia decided to invade you, you were still fighting for these reforms. So I strongly believe, if I look at the spirit of the Ukrainian people, that, yes, you will make the necessary reforms to become part of the EU and part of NATO. And then it will be up to us to keep our promises and to make sure that you're a full member and not again to bow to some of the demands of threats of President Putin as we've done in the past.

I think the European Union has laid out a clear road map, demanding reforms in a number of fields for you to be able to join the EU. But I think what it comes down to most is the willingness to defend the rule of law, from corruptable influences, to defend your democracy – of course, you're defending the democracy with your lives at the moment – and your willingness to establish freedoms and equalities as we have in the rest of Europe. I think you're not only on the right way: the spirit, both of your government and of your people show this all should be reachable within the next decade.

- In February, you received from the Ukrainian authorities the Order of Merit, 3rd class. What does it mean to you?

- For me it was a very special moment. It’s of course very special to be recognized by your president and to receive an award for the work that I've done in Parliament, supporting the recognition of the Holodomor, getting military support that you needed, whether it be F-16s, or howitzers, or Leopard tanks. I did it to support your European perspective because you need a perspective and hope, to know what you're fighting for. At the same time, it's also a little bit awkward because I strongly believe that what I've done as a Member of Parliament is what any Member of Parliament around the world should have been doing. It's only normal and, if I compare it to what every average Ukrainians, whether on the battlefield or supporting their soldiers, or just continuing their everyday lives, have to sustain, it's nothing.

Nevertheless it was a very nice recognition of the work I've done.

Iryna Drabok, The Hague

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