The Slovak government has approved a plan to give Ukraine its fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets
PRAGUE — The government of Slovakia on Friday approved a plan to give Ukraine its fleet of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, making it the second NATO member state to heed the Ukrainian government’s pleas for fighter jets to defend itself. against the Russian invasion.
Prime Minister Eduard Heger said at a press conference announcing the decision that his government was “on the right side of history”. Earlier, Heger tweeted that military aid was key to ensuring Ukraine can defend itself and all of Europe against Russia.
Poland announced on Thursday it would give Ukraine about a dozen MiG-29s, starting with four expected to be delivered in the coming days. Both Poland and Slovakia had previously indicated their willingness to grant Ukraine’s requests for military aircraft, but only as part of a broader international coalition.
Heger said his government’s move is “closely coordinated with the Polish side, Ukraine and other allies.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the promised planes were another example of NATO members “raising the level of their direct involvement in the conflict”.
“The equipment deliveries will, of course, not affect the outcome of the special military operation in any way, but it may bring more misfortune to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.
Slovakia will receive 200 million euros ($213 million) from the European Union in compensation and unspecified weapons from the United States worth 700 million euros ($745 million) in exchange for donating its MiG-29 fleet to Ukraine said Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked Western nations for fighter jets, but NATO allies held back, citing concerns over the escalation of the alliance’s role in the war.
Responding to Poland’s announcement on Thursday, the White House said Warsaw’s move would not affect President Joe Biden, who has resisted calls to supply US F-16s to Ukraine, and that it was to other countries to explain their own views.
Michał Baranowski, general manager of Warsaw-based GMF East, part of the German Marshall Fund think tank, said changing circumstances now allow for such a move since the initial reluctance to respond to Ukraine’s request.
“A lot of red lines have been crossed since that discussion last year,” Baranowski told The Associated Press by phone. Shipping MiGs now “is not the same tough political sell as last year.”
Ukraine will be able to use the MiGs immediately without any training.
Zelenskyy appealed directly to Heger for planes at an EU summit in Brussels last month.
Slovakia grounded its MiGs in the summer due to a lack of spare parts and expertise to help maintain them after Russian technicians returned home. In the absence of their own aircraft, fellow NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic stepped in to monitor Slovak airspace.
Before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine had several dozen MiG-29s it inherited during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but it is unclear how many are still in service after more than a year of fighting.
The Slovak government that made the decision to sign a bilateral deal with Ukraine for the jets has only limited powers after a vote of no confidence in December toppled the coalition government formed after the 2020 election.
The next elections are scheduled for September, when the opposition has a good chance of winning. Leaders include populist former Prime Minister Robert Fico, who opposes military aid to Ukraine and EU sanctions against Russia and has said the Slovak government has no mandate to supply fighter jets to Ukraine.
Opposition parties, including Fico’s Smer-Social Democratic party, rejected the government’s decision on Friday and threatened legal action.
Slovakia signed a deal to buy 14 US F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets, but delivery was delayed for two years until early 2024.
Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland contributed.
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