On Mar. 16, 2023 Poland pledged it would send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the first NATO member to do so, in a significant move in Kyiv’s battle to resist Russia’s onslaught.
The fighter jets, from about a dozen that it had inherited from the former German Democratic Republic, would be handed over in the coming days after being serviced said President Andrzej Duda.
“When it comes to the MiG-29 aircraft, which are still operating in the defense of Polish airspace, a decision has been taken at the highest levels, we can say confidently that we are sending MiGs to Ukraine,” Duda said.
According to CNN, Warsaw has taken a lead among NATO allies in supplying Kyiv with heavy weapons. The announcement that Poland will send the Soviet-designed planes marks a step beyond the rest of the alliance’s commitments, and could put pressure on other member states to do the same. Other NATO nations have been reluctant to move far beyond a decision earlier this year to send tanks to Kyiv, and the US insisted Thursday that Poland’s move would not force Washington’s hand.
Speaking at a news conference in Warsaw with his new Czech counterpart Petr Pavel, the Polish president expressed the two countries’ joint backing for Kyiv.
President Duda said that “The Czech Republic and Poland are countries that are in the absolute vanguard when it comes to supporting Ukraine, both at humanitarian and military levels.”
Besides Poland also Bulgaria and Slovakia operate MiG-29 aircraft. These countries have so far stopped short of giving any to Ukraine.
Sending MiGs is not an unexpected move for Poland and complies entirely with its membership of NATO. It might change the dynamic within the alliance, acting as a catalyst for more countries to do so (like the US), or upset countries that are opposed to NATO getting more involved in the conflict like Hungary.
Ultimately, creating this pressure on other allies was probably Poland’s intention.
The White House said Thursday that Poland’s decision to send the fighter jets is a “sovereign decision” that won’t spur President Joe Biden to send F-16 aircraft.
John Kirby, a top official at the US National Security Council said that “It doesn’t change our calculus with respect to F-16s.”
Biden, who said earlier this year he would not ship US fighter jets to Ukraine, won’t be swayed by Poland’s decision, he said.
In the meantime the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is currently investigating the possibility of supplying Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 fighter jets to European MiG-29 operators, so the Soviet-era aircraft can, in turn, be gifted to Ukraine.
Breaking Defense reports that despite ruling out the direct supply of the Tranche 1 jets to Ukraine because of logistics difficulties, the potential handover of the aircraft to MiG-29 operators was acknowledged by UK armed forces minister James Heappey, during a British defense committee hearing last week.
Heappey said the UK is “absolutely” looking into the matter, while a number of other countries are also “having this debate.”
However, given that the Tranche 1 fleet will be retired by the RAF in 2025 amounts to a significant maintenance drawback for any third-party operator considering taking up the UK’s offer.
Photo credit: NATO / Crown Copyright