Russia today vowed to ‘destroy’ the dozens of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets that Poland and Slovakia have pledged to send to Ukraine in the coming days.
The Kremlin said the fighter jets would be ‘destroyed’ before insisting that the deployment of Western arms – including warplanes and tanks – would not change the course of the war.
Slovakia today approved a plan to send its fleet of 13 MiG-29s to Ukraine, following Poland’s lead in supplying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with warplanes to help fight against Russia’s invasion.
In response, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: ‘The supply of this military equipment – as we have repeatedly said – will not change the outcome of the special military operation… Of course, all this equipment will be destroyed.’
Since Russia’s invasion last year NATO countries have sent billions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine to help Ukraine defend against Russia’s invading forces. Moscow has accused the West of directly participating in the conflict through supplying weapons to Ukraine, and has warned before that NATO weapons would ‘burn like hell’.
Slovakia has approved a plan to send its fleet of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets (file image) to Ukraine, following Poland’s lead in supplying Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with warplanes to help fight against Russia’s invasion
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger said his government had unanimously voted to donate its fleet of MiGs (file image) to Ukraine, becoming the second NATO member to fulfil Kyiv’s increasingly urgent requests for fighter jets
Earlier, Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger said his government had unanimously voted to donate its fleet of MiGs to Ukraine, becoming the second NATO member to fulfil Kyiv‘s increasingly urgent requests for fighter jets.
‘We will hand over 13 of our MiG-19 jets to Ukraine,’ Heger said, adding that Slovakia would also deliver a Kub air defence system to Kyiv. Slovakia grounded its fleet of warplanes last year and no longer uses the jets.
‘Promises must be kept and when Zelensky asked for more weapons including fighter jets, I said we’ll do our best. Glad others are doing the same,’ Heger later tweeted, adding that military aid was key to ensuring Ukraine can ‘defend itself’.
The move comes a day after Warsaw said it would send around a dozen of the fighter jets to Kyiv.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday that Poland would hand over four of the Soviet-made warplanes in the coming days and others that need servicing and would be supplied later.
‘In the coming days we will first transfer, if I remember correctly, four fully operational planes to Ukraine,’ Duda said, adding that Poland currently has a dozen or so MiG planes that it inherited from the former German Democratic Republic.
‘These MiGs are still in service in Poland’s air force. They’re in their last years of operation but are still for the most part in full working order,’ Duda said.
‘Additional planes are currently in preparation, under maintenance, and will probably be transferred successively.’
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that deliveries could be made in four to six weeks.
The MiG-29s will help Ukraine destroy Russian air targets within radar coverage limits as well as ground targets using unguided missiles. The aircraft also features large wing extensions which gives it good manoeuvrability and control at subsonic speeds.
Poland and Slovakia had indicated they were ready to hand over their planes, but only as part of a wider international coalition doing the same.
It remains unclear whether other countries would also share their military planes.
Ukraine’s Air Force has a fleet of ageing Soviet-era fighter jets that came off the assembly line before Kyiv even declared independence more than 31 years ago. The warplanes are used for intercept missions and to attack Russian positions.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pleaded for Western supporters to share fighter jets, NATO allies have expressed hesitancy.
Before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February last year, Ukraine had several dozen MiG-29s it inherited in the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it’s unclear how many of them remain in service after more than a year of fighting.
The debate over whether to provide non-NATO country Ukraine with fighter jets was initiated over a year ago, but NATO has been wary of making the war escalate.
Indeed, US President Joe Biden’s administration said yesterday that Poland’s move to send MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine does ‘not change’ the US decision against sending its own warplanes to Kyiv.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Poland’s decision ‘doesn’t change our calculus with regards to F16s’, referring to the US-built fighter jet.
He made clear that Poland’s move ‘does not affect, does not change that.’
Meanwhile, the Dutch foreign affairs minister, Wopke Hoekstra, in January said it was looking into supplying F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. The Netherlands has around 40 of America’s F-16s while seven other European Nato countries fly the jets, including Poland and Norway.
Polish PM Morawiecki also said on Tuesday that Warsaw was considering providing U.S.-made F-16 fighter planes which would give the Ukrainians a qualitative edge over the Russians.
Ukrainian soldiers of the Paratroopers’ of 80th brigade take cover as they fire a mortar shell at a frontline position near Bakhmut, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Thursday
Ukrainian servicemen ride atop of a tank at a position near a frontline, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, on Thursday
Youth take part in an action to mark the ninth anniversary of the Crimea annexation from Ukraine with the banner reads: “Russia doesn’t start wars, it ends them” accompanied with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Yalta, Crimea, on Friday
However, the Biden administration must first approve these third-party transfers whereby a countries re-export their US aircraft to Ukraine to defend its airspace against Russian attacks.
The UK, among Kyiv’s staunchest supporters and military suppliers, has also remained hesitant over sending Typhoon and F-35 jets to Ukraine on the grounds that it would take months or even years to train pilots who are used to Soviet-era fighters. Experts say they also would not be the most effective jets for the battleground.
In contrast, Ukraine’s air force is familiar with MiG-29s which means they could use the planes right away.
Poland was also the first NATO nation to hand German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, last month.
Earlier this year, Washington said it was sending 31 of its fast-moving M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, while Berlin will initially supply at least 14 Leopard 2 tanks and give permission to other NATO countries to deliver their own to Kyiv.
Britain was the first NATO country to announce it would send 14 next-generation battle tanks to Ukraine in the form of the Challenger 2 tanks.
Russia responded to that move with fury, with Moscow branding the decision to send tanks a ‘blatant provocation’ and warned the new Nato supplies will ‘burn like all the rest’.
Poland is a crucial ally in the Ukraine crisis. It is hosting thousands of American troops and is taking in more people fleeing the war in Ukraine than any other nation, in the midst of the largest European refugee crisis in decades.
It has suffered invasions and occupations by Russia for centuries and still fears Russia despite being a member of NATO.
It comes as Ukrainian forces were today continuing to withstand Russian assaults on the ruined city of Bakhmut, the focal point for eight months of Russian attempts to advance through the industrial Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine bordering Russia.
Roughly one mile from the front lines, Reuters reporters said they could hear the constant boom of artillery and the crackle of small arms fire on Thursday.
Ihor, a 36-year-old soldier at the mortar position, said Ukrainian forces had been targeted by air strikes, mortar fire and tank shelling.
‘You don’t always check on what’s flying over your head,’ he added, crouching in a deep trench.
Bakhmut has become Europe’s bloodiest infantry battle since World War Two. Russian forces led by the Wagner private army have captured the city’s eastern part but have so far failed to encircle it.
‘The situation in the city of Bakhmut remains on the brink of critical,’ Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military analyst, said in a YouTube presentation. ‘Russian forces are hitting the same areas over and over again.’
Russian forces also conducted four air strikes on the frontline town of Avdiivka south of Bakhmut on Friday, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Telegram, posting a picture of a ruined apartment block.
‘The city is being shelled almost around the clock,’ he wrote, adding that there had been no casualties on Friday.