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Escalation: Backed by U.S. and EU, Poland and Slovakia Sending Jets to Ukraine

Russia has vowed to destroy all fighter jets donated to Ukraine by European nations after Poland and Slovakia, backed by new equipment and finance from the U.S. and the European Union, became the first countries to send warplanes to Kyiv.

Fighter jets have been a long-term demand for the Ukrainian government of Volodymyr Zelensky since the renewed Russian invasion at the start of 2022, but NATO leaders have shied away from what they considered a major escalation of their involvement in the conflict until now. Enabled by cash and replacement warbirds from the United States and the European Union, two European nations are sending fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming days.

The first to announce it was sending jets was Poland, whose airforce operates many former-Soviet fighters. Warsaw announced Thursday it would be sending the first tranche of Mikoyan MIG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ fighter jets, a 1980s-era type roughly originally built as a parallel to the U.S. F-16. While that delivery will run to four jets, Poland has dozens and is reportedly preparing others for delivery.

The Polish jets going to Kyiv ends over a year of will-they-won’t-they following their initial announcement of intent to supply Ukraine with fighters in March 2022. The jets are expected to go to Ukraine within days, Poland said.

Poland is being backed in the donation, albeit somewhat indirectly, by the United States which is supplying the Polish Air Force with modern F-35s. Until they arrive, which could take years, the United Kingdom has offered to supply air patrols in the skies of NATO members who donate warbirds to Ukraine.

In the case of Poland, the United Kingdom has explicitly offered to “backfill” their air defence capacity when they give their own jets to Ukraine.

As has been the case with other major escalations in levels of support to Ukraine — the provision of main battle tanks, for instance, where months of refusals from NATO nations ended with a rush of donations after the United Kingdom opened the floodgates by being the first to supply — Poland making the jets announcement has been closely followed. Slovakia has now said it will send its entire airforce’s stock of MIG-29s as well in an announcement on Friday just hours after Poland’s.

Slovakia’s MIG-29s were retired last year and not all of the 13 aircraft are functional, Reuters reports, but all will be sent anyway, with the non-flying airframes to be cannibalised by the Ukrainians for spares.

Slovakia is also receiving considerable support from Western powers to make the donation possible. The European Union is making a contribution of $200 million to the Slovakian government in “compensation” for them losing their jets, and the United States has agreed to supply $700 million of new military equipment — likely American-made fighters like the F-35 — to replace them.

As Euronews reports, Ukraine itself has reacted with some ingratitude to the donations of jets, with airforce spokesman Yuriy Ignat cited as having said: “MiGs will not solve the problems, we need F-16s. But the MiGs will help to strengthen our capabilities.”

Russia, for their part, declared the transfer of jets to Ukraine illegal, but nevertheless said they weren’t worried as the aircraft would “naturally” be destroyed anyway. A Moscow spokesman claimed under the contracts through which the Soviet-made MIG-29s were originally supplied to Poland and Slovakia, they need Russia’s permission to export them to a third party, Kremlin press agency TASS reported Friday.

Whether that obligation is real or not, Poland and Slovakia have clearly decided that pariah state Russia is in no position to enforce the contractual obligations anyway.

Regardless, Moscow vowed to destroy the Soviet jets once they were in the hands of the Ukrainians. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the donation demonstrated that Western powers were directly involved in the Ukraine War, that the provision of aircraft would not have an impact on the war other than to lengthen it, and that: “Naturally, these aircraft will be destroyed in the course of the special military operation.”


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