Slovakia again has pledged all 11 of its old Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine. The country recently placed the jets into storage in anticipation of just such a transfer.
This is not the first time the government in Bratislava has offered its old fighters to Kyiv. The Slovaks first proposed to donate the four-decade-old MiGs back in the spring, in the early weeks of Russia’s wider war on Ukraine.
But the Ukrainians need the MiGs more than ever. Urgently, in fact. The twin-engine, supersonic MiG-29s are the Ukrainian air force’s most numerous and arguably most versatile planes—but they’re running out.
“We haven’t handed you the MiG-29s yet,” Rastislav Kacer, Slovakia’s foreign minister, said on Monday. “But we’re ready to do it.”
The proposed transfer previously got tangled up in the delicate diplomacy around the Ukraine-Russia war—as well as in Slovakia’s own air-defense problems.
Poland, one of just a handful of NATO countries including Slovakia that operates—or recently operated—MiG-29s, also had mulled donating its old fighters to Ukraine, but the United States objected to Poland’s proposal to stage the MiGs from an American air base for their flight into Ukraine.
In essence, Warsaw aimed to hide behind Washington as it reinforced Kyiv’s battered air force. But the administration of U.S. president Joe Biden rejected the proposal.
So Poland’s 28 MiGs remained in Poland. But the Biden administration “does not object” to Slovakia giving away its own MiGs, according to Politico. One implication is that Washington is okay with its allies rearming the Ukrainian air force, as long as they don’t ask to use American bases for the transfer.
The other implication is that Slovakia plans to send its MiGs directly to Ukraine—or at least stage them at non-American bases along the way.
The Slovak government had its own good reasons to hesitate. The MiGs were its air force’s only front-line air-superiority jets. Slovakia has ordered new Lockheed Martin F-16s from the United States to replace the aging, ex-Soviet planes—but these F-16s aren’t due to arrive until 2024.
To bridge a possible air-defense gap, the Czech Republic and Poland in August agreed to patrol Slovak air space.
The 11 Slovak MiGs—nine single-seaters and two twin-seat models—only partially would make good Ukrainian losses since February. Kyiv’s air force has written off 15 MiG-29s that outside analysts can confirm, including two in October.
It’s unclear just how many MiGs the Ukrainian air force had before the war—perhaps 50, perhaps fewer.
Steady supplies of spare parts, presumably from Poland, have allowed the Ukrainians to maintain the jets they already had as well as restore to flightworthy status a few airframes that were in storage—including some that previously had served as display jets.
So if the Slovaks finally hand over their old fighters, the Ukrainians might once again have around 50 MiG-29s. Enough to keep them in the air, fighting the Russians, for months to come.
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