Slovakia joins Poland in sending Soviet-era jets to Ukraine

Slovakia has said it will send its Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine along with Poland, increasing the west’s military contributions to bolstering the country’s air defenses against a barrage of Russian missile strikes.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger said in a tweet on Friday that his country would send 13 MiG-29s to Ukraine, following Warsaw’s announcement that it would send at least four of its own aircraft. The planes will be used as additional aircraft and spare parts for Ukraine’s existing MiG fleet, but they do not meet Kiev’s demand for Western fighter jets, such as the US-made F-16s.

Before this week’s announcements, both Warsaw and Bratislava had said delivery of MiG-29 jets could only be made as part of a “coalition” of Western nations, and backed by commitments from other NATO states to replace those jets by western aircraft. .

Washington welcomed the announcements from both Poland and Slovakia, but the White House said it had not changed its mind about whether or not to send F-16s. The Biden administration has argued that it would be too expensive to send them and that they would take too long to reach the battlefield.

“It has no impact or effect whatsoever on our own sovereign decision making when it comes to F-16s,” Kirby said Friday.

Ukrainian forces already know how to use the MiG-29s, he said, and the US expects them to “complement the fighter capabilities that the Ukrainian air force has at their disposal.”

Polish officials hope their announcement and Slovakia’s will be an “intermediate step” to convince Washington and other countries with more advanced fighter jets to change their minds. Several European countries have F-16s, but sending them to Ukraine also requires US approval.

A Polish official said that while there was no explicit promise from Washington for new aircraft to replace the MiGs being sent to Ukraine, Poland expected Washington to be more favorable to its longer-term request for new US-made jets . The official added that F-16s, if deployed to Ukraine, could play an important role in the defense of the country as current air defenses struggle to shoot down all incoming Russian missiles.

Reacting to the Polish and Slovak announcements, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that they illustrated an increased “direct involvement” of Western countries in the war. He downplayed the impact of the extra MiGs delivered to Ukraine, saying they “couldn’t affect the outcome” of the conflict.

“Of course during the ‘special military operation’ all this equipment will be destroyed,” added Peskov. “There is a sense that these countries are in the process of disposing of old and unnecessary equipment.”

Slovakia had also reached an agreement with the US on supplies of military equipment worth about $700 million, the government said. Arms deliveries to Ukraine are reimbursed by the EU — in the case of Slovakia up to €200 million.

The Slovak MiG decision comes at a tense moment in domestic politics and was met with strong opposition in the Slovak parliament. Heger heads a caretaker government after his government lost a parliamentary vote of confidence in December. The country will hold early parliamentary elections in September.

Heger’s decision was facilitated by Poland taking the first step, but it was risky because Heger bypassed parliament and “provided perfect ammunition for part of the radical opposition in Slovakia to take to the streets,” said Milan Nič , senior fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

In recent weeks, opposition lawmakers had insisted that an acting prime minister did not have the power to hand over fighter jets without the approval of parliament. “For Poland this is quite a consensual decision, while in Slovakia it was the exact opposite,” Nič said. In Bratislava, “this comes at a very fragile time, not only for the government but also for the entire pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian camp.”

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