Slovakia’s government has approved a plan to give Ukraine its fleet of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets.
Slovakia’s government on Friday approved a plan to give Ukraine its fleet of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, becoming only the second NATO member to respond to Ukrainian government calls for warplanes to help defend against a Russian invasion.
Prime Minister Eduard Heger said during a press conference announcing the decision that his government was “on the right side of history”. Earlier, Heger tweeted that military assistance was key to ensuring that Ukraine could defend itself and all of Europe against Russia.
Poland announced Thursday that it will give Ukraine about a dozen MiG-29s, starting with four that are expected to be delivered in the coming days. Poland and Slovakia have previously indicated their willingness to meet Ukraine’s requests for military aircraft, but only as part of a broader international alliance.
Heger said his government’s move was “closely coordinated with the Polish side, Ukraine and other allies.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the promised planes are another example of NATO members “raising the level of their direct participation in the conflict”.
“Naturally, the delivery of equipment will not have any impact on the outcome of the special military operation, but it may bring more misfortune to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said Slovakia will receive 200 million euros ($213 million) from the European Union in compensation and 700 million euros ($745 million) of unspecified weapons from the United States in exchange for the delivery of its MiG-29 fleet to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly asked Western countries to acquire fighter jets, but NATO allies have blocked this, citing concern about the alliance’s escalating role in the war.
In response to Poland’s announcement on Thursday, the White House said Warsaw’s move would have no impact on President Joe Biden, who has resisted calls to provide Ukraine with US F-16s, and that it was up to other countries to explain their positions.
Changing circumstances now allow such a move since the initial reluctance to respond to Ukraine’s request, said Michal Baranowski, managing director of Warsaw-based GMF East, part of the German Marshall Fund think tank.
“Many red lines have been crossed since that discussion last year,” Baranowski told the Associated Press by phone. Sending out MiGs now “isn’t the same political hard sell it was last year.”
Ukraine will be able to use the MiGs immediately without the need for any training.
Zelensky directly appealed to Heger to get planes at the EU summit in Brussels last month.
Slovakia grounded the 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 its own aircraft, NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic have stepped in to monitor Slovak airspace.
Before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine had dozens of MiG-29s it inherited in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but it is unclear how many fighters remain in service after more than a year of combat.
The Slovak government, which made the decision to sign a bilateral agreement with Ukraine for aircraft, has only limited powers after a no-confidence vote in December brought down the coalition government formed after the country’s 2020 elections.
The next elections are scheduled for September, when the opposition stands a good chance of winning. Among its leaders is populist former prime minister Robert Fico, who opposes military support to Ukraine and EU sanctions on Russia and has said Slovakia’s government does not have a mandate to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine.
Opposition parties, including Fico’s “Samir-Democratic” party, rejected the government’s decision Friday, threatening to file a lawsuit.
Slovakia has signed a deal to buy 14 US F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets, but deliveries have been pushed back two years to early 2024.
Vanessa Gira contributed in Warsaw, Poland.
Follow AP coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine-war
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