Poland and Slovakia have announced that they would send fighter planes to Ukraine amid calls for more military support to Ukraine.
While Poland made the announcement on Thursday, Slovakia made the announcement on Friday. With these announcements, the two countries became the first from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bloc to commit fighter planes to Ukraine.
Poland and Slovakia will send Soviet-origin MiG-29 fighter planes to Ukraine. The specific numbers are not known but the first delivery will be made by Poland "within the next few days", according to Poland's President Andrzej Duda. Slovakia will provide 13 fighters to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has consistently pushed Western partners to provide sophisticated weapon system and equipment. So far, the West has provided Ukraine with guns, ammunition, artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, rocket launchers, and tanks. While Zelenskyy has pushed for fighter planes, US President Joe Biden has so far not accepted the request to send US F-16 planes to Ukraine.
What did Poland, Slovakia say?
Poland said on Thursday it plans to give Ukraine about a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda said the country will hand over four of fighters "within the next few days" and the rest needed servicing but would be supplied later. The Polish word he used to describe the total number can mean between 11 and 19.
"They are in the last years of their functioning, but they are in good working condition," Duda said.
A day after Polish announcement, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger said his government will send 13 fighters to Ukraine.
Heger tweeted, "Slovak government just approved sending 13 MiG29s to Ukraine! Promises must be kept and when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for more weapons, including fighter jets, I said we’ll do our best. Glad others are doing the same. Military aid to ensur Ukraine can defend itself and the entire Europe against Russia."
#Slovak gov. just approved sending 13 #MiG29s to #Ukraine! Promises must be kept&when @ZelenskyyUa asked for more #weapons incl. fighter jets, I said we’ll do our best. Glad others’re doing the same. #Military aid’s🔑to ensure🇺🇦can defend itself&the entire #Europe against #Russia— Eduard Heger (@eduardheger) March 17, 2023
On Wednesday, Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller said some other countries also had pledged MiGs to Kyiv, but did not identify them. Both 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.
How has the USA responded?
The White House called Poland's move a sovereign decision and lauded the Poles for continuing to "punch above their weight" in assisting Kyiv, but it stressed the move would have no bearing on President Joe Biden, who has resisted calls to provide U.S. F-16s to Ukraine.
"There's no change in our view with respect to fighter aircraft at this time. That is our sovereign decision. That is where we are, other nations can speak to their own," said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
The White House said Poland notified the United States of its decision to provide MiGs before Duda announced the move.
Ukraine already operates MiG-29
Before Russia's full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine had several dozen MiG-29s it inherited in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but it's unclear how many remain in service after more than a year of fighting.
The debate over whether to provide non-NATO member Ukraine with fighter jets started last year, but NATO allies expressed concern about escalating the alliance's role in the war. The hesitation continued even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made increasingly vocal pleas for Western supporters to share their warplanes.
Duda made the announcement during a joint news conference in Warsaw with the visiting Czech President Petr Pavel.
Duda said Poland's air force would replace the planes it gives to Ukraine with South Korea-made FA-50 fighters and American-made F-35s.
Poland has provided Ukraine with crucial support during the war. It is hosting thousands of American troops and has taken in more Ukrainians than any other nation during the refugee exodus sparked by the Russian invasion.
The central European nation experienced Russian invasions and occupations for centuries and still fears Russia despite being a NATO member.
(With AP inputs)