Slovakia joins Poland in sending Soviet-era planes to Ukraine

Slovakia has announced it will join Poland in sending Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, expanding Western military contributions to bolster the country’s air defenses against Russian missile attacks.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger a it beeps on Friday that his country would send 13 MiG-29s to Ukraine after Warsaw announced it would send at least four of its own aircraft. The planes will serve as supplemental aircraft and spare parts for Ukraine’s existing MiG fleet, but fall short of Kiev’s demand for Western fighters such as the US-made F-16s.

Prior to this week’s announcements, both Warsaw and Bratislava stated that the delivery of the MiG-29s could only be achieved as part of a “coalition” of Western countries, backed by promises from other NATO states to replace these aircraft with Western aircraft. .

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

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

Ukrainian forces already know how to use the MiG-29s, and the US expects them to “complement the fighter jet capabilities available to the Ukrainian Air Force.”

Ukrainian Air Force spokesman Yuriy Ignat said the MiG-29s would bolster their capabilities, but added that such Soviet-designed aircraft “are not an effective weapon against weapons of terror. Their antiquated missiles, radars and on-board radars cannot be very effective”.

Mikola Bielieskov, an analyst at the National Institute of Strategic Studies of Ukraine, who spoke privately, said that the Polish and Slovak MiGs have better communication systems, but in some ways they are less capable than the Ukrainian MiGs, which have already been adapted by some Western for firing stocks. rockets.

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

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A Polish official said that while Washington had not made an explicit promise of new jets to replace the MiGs being sent to Ukraine, Poland expects Washington to look more favorably on 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 the country’s defense, given that its 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 indicated increased “direct involvement” of Western countries in the war. He downplayed the impact of additional MiGs delivered to Ukraine, saying they “cannot affect” the outcome of the conflict.

“Of course, during the ‘special military operation,’ all this equipment will be destroyed,” Peskov added. “One gets the feeling that in these countries they deal with the disposal of old and unnecessary equipment.”

Slovakia also concluded an agreement with the United States on the delivery of military material worth about 700 million dollars, the government announced. Arms deliveries to Ukraine are reimbursed by the EU – up to 200 million euros in the case of Slovakia.

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The Slovakian MiG decision came at a tense period of domestic politics and met with fierce opposition in the Slovak parliament. Heger is leading an interim administration after his government lost parliamentary confidence in December. Early parliamentary elections will be held in the country in September.

Heger’s decision was made easier by Poland taking the first step, but it was risky because Heger bypassed parliament, providing “perfect ammunition for some of Slovakia’s radical opposition to take to the streets,” said Milan Nič, a senior fellow at the German Council. about foreign relations.

In recent weeks, opposition MPs have insisted that the caretaker prime minister has no authority to hand over fighter jets without parliamentary approval. “For Poland, it’s a fairly consensual decision, while in Slovakia it was the exact opposite,” Nič said. In Bratislava, “this is happening at a very fragile moment, not only for the government, but also for the entire pro-Western and pro-Ukraine camp.”