Slovakia has announced that it will donate its entire fleet of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 warplanes to Ukraine, becoming the second NATO member country after Poland to make such a pledge.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Friday that his government unanimously approved the plan to give Ukraine its MiG-29s, which were grounded last year and no longer used by the Slovak air force. He said that Slovakia was “on the right side of history” and that it wanted to help Ukraine protect its civilians from Russian aggression.
“We’re giving these MiGs to Ukraine so that it can protect civilians against the many bombs that fall on their houses and which are the reason why people are dying in Ukraine,” Heger said at a news conference.
He also said that Slovakia would receive compensation from the European Union and the United States for its gesture. According to Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď, Slovakia will get €200 million ($225 million) from the EU and unspecified arms worth €700 million ($790 million) from the US.
Ukraine has been asking its Western allies for modern fighter jets and other advanced weapons to boost its defence capabilities against Russia, which has amassed more than 100,000 troops near its border. Ukraine argues that it needs technological superiority to counter Russia’s numerical advantage and avoid close-combat battles that would cost more lives.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Volodymyr Havrylov told The Guardian last month that with superior Western equipment, Ukraine could push Russian forces further back from the frontlines and target their energy infrastructure, which Russia has been bombing since October.
“With technological superiority, it doesn’t matter how many [troops] they will send to us because we will use this equipment, new equipment and technologies in such a way that we will try to escape direct, close fighting to kill them before they can reach us,” Havrylov said.
However, some experts doubt how much impact the donated MiG-29s will have on the ground. The jets are about 30 years old and require maintenance and training for Ukrainian pilots. Moreover, Russia has more advanced air defence systems that could shoot down any Ukrainian planes.
Russia has condemned Slovakia’s decision as a provocation and a violation of international law. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the planes would be “destroyed” by Russian forces if they were used against them.
“They won’t change anything,” Peskov said. “They won’t change anything except for increasing tensions.”
Russia has also warned Poland not to send its own MiG-29s to Ukraine. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday that his country would give around a dozen of its Soviet-made warplanes to Ukraine, with four arriving in the coming days and others later after servicing.
Poland and Slovakia have both indicated that they were ready to hand over their planes only as part of a wider international coalition doing the same. It remains unclear whether other countries will follow suit. The UK has offered air cover for any Eastern European allies willing to send jets to Ukraine.
NATO allies have been reluctant to provide non-NATO member Ukraine with military fighter jets, citing concerns about escalating their role in the war. However, they have increased their diplomatic pressure on Russia and imposed new sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.