EU country cleared to donate MiG-29s to Ukraine
Slovakia can donate its Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, after the Czech Republic agreed to patrol Slovakian airspace from September onwards, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Sunday. The MiG deal has reportedly been in the works for several months.
“We will help Slovakia until it has new planes at its disposal,” Fiala said during a televised debate with Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger. “I don't see any problem there, the government will certainly approve it.”
The Slovak Air Force is believed to operate 12 MiG-29s, which were left in its inventory after the collapse of the USSR. Rumors that Slovakia would donate these planes to Kiev began circulating days after Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine in February, when EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced that the bloc would source Soviet-made jets from Eastern European countries for Ukraine’s battered air force.
Borrell’s plan never came to fruition, with Poland and Bulgaria – two other operators of Soviet jets – never sending their planes to Ukraine. However, Heger stated in April that he would be willing to hand over his country’s dozen MiGs, should Slovakia’s allies be willing to cover its defense needs until the MiGs were replaced with American warplanes.
Slovakia’s MiGs were originally scheduled to be replaced with 14 US-made F-16 fighters this year, but the delivery date has since been pushed back to 2024.
The US squashed a Polish plan to transfer its own Soviet fighters to Ukraine in March, but the Pentagon stated in April that it “certainly would not object to” the Slovakian scheme. However, no progress toward sending the MiGs to Ukraine was announced since.
With the deal now apparently cleared, questions remain around how Slovakia would actually transfer the jets across its eastern border with Ukraine. Flying these planes into Ukraine from a Slovakian base could be perceived by Moscow as an act of war, dragging NATO into open conflict with Russia. On the other hand, delivering the jets by land could risk transport vehicles being targeted by Russian jets or missiles once they cross into Ukrainian territory.
Slovakia has given more than $160 million in military aid to Ukraine since February, and opened its repair yards to damaged Ukrainian military vehicles. Last month, Bratislava sent five Soviet-built helicopters and thousands of 122mm rockets to Kiev’s forces, and is reportedly considering sending 30 T-72 tanks, should its allies provide suitable replacements.