In a move that has been hailed as a sign of solidarity and support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and security, Slovakia has transferred its entire fleet of 13 MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets to Ukraine. The donation of the Soviet-era aircraft, which were retired from active service by the Slovak Air Force, is intended to bolster Ukraine’s air defence capabilities amid the ongoing conflict with Russia.
The transfer process began on March 23, 2023, when four MiG-29s were flown from Sliač Air Base in Slovakia to Starokostiantyniv Air Base in Ukraine by Ukrainian pilots. The remaining nine jets were delivered by road in April, along with two Kub anti-aircraft missile systems, a control system, and ammunition. The total value of the equipment is estimated at $900 million.
Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Naď said that the transfer was an “important and challenging” logistics operation that required close coordination with Poland, Ukraine, and other allies. He added that the donation was a “significant demonstration of support for Ukraine in its efforts to defend against Russia’s military aggression and safeguard the lives of its citizens.”
Slovakia’s decision to transfer the MiG-29s was announced by Prime Minister Eduard Heger in a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on March 17, 2023. Heger said that Slovakia was ready to provide “any assistance” to Ukraine within its capabilities and expressed hope that the jets would “serve well” in Ukraine’s hands.
The MiG-29s were last modernized in 1996 and have been plagued by technical problems and a lack of spare parts. According to General Daniel Zmeko, the Chief of General Staff for the Slovak Republic Armed Forces, the jets had a high failure rate and the pilots had lost most of their skills and capabilities due to limited flying hours. Zmeko said that the MiG-29s were no longer necessary for the requirements of the Slovak Armed Forces, which are transitioning to modern multirole fighters supplied by Lockheed Martin.
The transfer of the MiG-29s has been welcomed by Ukraine, which has been struggling to maintain its ageing fleet of combat aircraft amid the war with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and the threat of a full-scale invasion by Russia. Ukraine also received four MiG-29s from Poland in March 2023 as part of a NATO assistance package.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran said that the MiG-29s from Slovakia and Poland would “significantly increase” Ukraine’s air defence potential and thanked both countries for their “generous gesture” and “brotherly support.” He also said that Ukraine would modernize and upgrade the jets to meet NATO standards and integrate them into its air force structure.
The transfer of the MiG-29s has also drawn criticism from Russia, which has accused NATO of provoking and escalating tensions in the region. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that any aircraft donated to Ukraine by NATO nations would be “destroyed” by Russian forces if they were used against Russia or its allies. He also warned that NATO’s involvement in Ukraine’s affairs would have “serious consequences” for European security.