Slovakia joins Poland in sending Soviet-era jets to Ukraine

Slovakia has announced plans to join Poland in sending Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, expanding the West’s military contribution to bolstering the country’s air defenses against a barrage of Russian missile attacks.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger said a 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 are used as additional aircraft and spare parts for Ukraine’s existing MiG fleet, but they do not meet Kiev’s demand for Western fighters such as the US-made F-16 fighter jets.

Before this week’s announcements, both Warsaw and Bratislava had said the delivery of the MiG-29 jets could only take place as part of a “coalition” with Western countries, backed by pledges from other NATO nations to replace those jets with Western planes. .

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

“It has no impact or impact on our own sovereign decision-making regarding the F-16s,” Kirby said Friday.

Ukrainian forces already know how to operate the MiG-29s, he said, and the United States expects them to “add to the fighters that the Ukrainian Air Force has at its disposal.”

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

A Polish official said that while Washington had not specifically promised new aircraft to replace the MiGs being sent to Ukraine, Poland expected Washington to be more receptive to its longer-term request for new US-made jets. The official added that if deployed to Ukraine, the F-16s could play an important role in defending the country, as its current air defenses struggle to shoot down any incoming Russian missiles.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to Poland and Slovakia’s announcements on Friday, saying they illustrated the West’s increased “direct involvement” in the war. He downplayed the impact of the extra MiGs delivered to Ukraine, saying they “could not affect the outcome of the conflict”.

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

Slovakia had also reached an agreement with the United States for the supply of military equipment worth about $700 million, the government said. The EU will reimburse arms deliveries to Ukraine – in the case of Slovakia, up to 200 million euros.

Slovakia’s MiG decision comes at a time of domestic political tension and faced strong opposition in the Slovak parliament. Heger heads the interim administration after his government lost a parliamentary confidence vote in December. Early parliamentary elections will be held in the country in September.

Heger’s decision was made easier by the fact that Poland made the first move, but it was risky because Heger bypassed parliament and provided “the perfect ammunition for part of Slovakia’s radical opposition to take to the streets,” said Milan Nič, a senior researcher at the German Council. foreign relations.

In recent weeks, opposition lawmakers have insisted that the interim prime minister has no right to hand over the fighter jets without parliamentary approval. “For Poland, this is a fairly unanimous decision, while in Slovakia it has been the complete opposite,” Nič said. In Bratislava, “this comes at a very fragile moment, not only for the government but also for the entire pro-Western and pro-Ukraine camp.”

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