Slovakia Follows Poland in Pledging to Send Jets to Ukraine
The news came after Poland’s president said that his country would send MIG-29 jets, a move that appeared intended to open the door to more advanced warplanes from NATO allies.
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The government of Slovakia said on Friday that it would send 13 Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine, a day after a similar announcement by Poland’s president, marking a possibly significant shift from NATO allies in increasing arms supplies for Kyiv.
Most of Slovakia’s MIG-29 warplanes are not in working order so their delivery to Ukraine, most likely to provide spare parts for Ukraine’s own fleet of Soviet-era jets, will not change the balance of force on the battlefield. But it could add momentum to a Polish-led push within NATO, of which both Slovakia and Poland are members, to break a taboo on sending Ukraine warplanes to defend against Russia’s invasion.
Until Poland’s surprise announcement on Thursday that it would send a first batch of four MIG-29s within days, NATO countries, including the United States, had refrained from providing jets, even aging or damaged Soviet-era ones.
With Russia expected to mount spring offensives, the push to provide Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons has been accelerating, particularly in Europe’s former Soviet eastern edge, which has been especially vocal about opposing Russia’s aggression.
But Slovakia’s planes had required servicing by Russia engineers to keep flying and have all been grounded for months because of concerns over their airworthiness. And domestic political wrangling is likely to complicate execution of the pledge by the government, a caretaker administration with limited powers.
Slovakia first raised the possibility of sending MIG-29s a year ago, but the government behind that offer collapsed in December, leaving the country in the hands of the interim administration. Opposition politicians against helping Ukraine and some constitutional experts have argued that a decision on sending jets must wait until after new elections later this year or gain approval from Slovakia’s Parliament, in which the current government does not have a majority.
The announcement on Friday, which Ukraine’s government welcomed, defied those who insist the interim leadership cannot take such an important decision. The acting prime minister, Eduard Heger, wrote on Twitter: “Promises must be kept.” He did not specify the timing of any delivery of warplanes.
The Russian Embassy in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, contended that such a transfer would be illegal, saying in a statement that “relevant Russian-Slovak agreements explicitly prohibit any transfer of weapons and military hardware to third countries without consent from the country of origin,” Russia’s Tass news agency reported.
Robert Fico, who resigned as Slovakia’s prime minister in 2018 amid corruption allegations involving organized crime, has insisted that the constitution bars the acting prime minister from taking a decision on warplanes. He told a recent news conference that Mr. Heger is “either completely stupid” or taking orders from the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava.
If, as many expect, Mr. Fico’s party performs well in a general election this autumn, Slovakia could join Hungary, currently the only country within the European Union opposed to arming Ukraine, in an alliance of Ukraine skeptics.
Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has so far been out of step with fellow leaders within NATO and the European bloc because of his equivocal stance over the war in Ukraine. But the possible return of Mr. Fico as prime minister or as a significant force in Slovakia’s government afer elections could give the Hungarian leader new clout and weaken Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine.
Russia, calculating that it can outlast the West, has been banking for months on a gradual crumbling of European resolve under public pressure over inflation and other economic pain. It was bitterly disappointed this month when voters in Estonia gave a big election victory to a staunchly pro-Ukrainian government.
If political uncertainty in Slovakia gives Moscow a new opportunity to undermine Western resolve, it would be the opposite of the outcome Poland wanted when it on Thursday announced its decision to send MIG-29s to Ukraine, a move that appeared intended to open the door to more advanced warplanes from NATO allies and entrench a more hawkish line against Russia.
The Kremlin on Friday brushed off Poland’s pledge, saying the jets would not affect the war’s outcome.
“All this equipment will be subject to destruction,” the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters. “It seems that these countries really want to dispose of their old unnecessary equipment this way.”
Ivan Nechepurenko, Matt Surman and Lara Jakes contributed reporting.
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