Slovakia has already transferred four of the 13 MiG-29 fighter jets set to be sent to neighbouring Ukraine, becoming the first Nato country to donate fighter jets since the Russian invasion.
The Slovak Ministry of Defence stated that the remaining Soviet-made fighter jets will be transferred in the “upcoming weeks” as part of an international agreement.
“The transfer was carried out by Ukrainian pilots with the help of Slovak Air Forces” with other Slovak and Ukrainian bodies securing the safe transport, a spokesperson of the Slovak Ministry of Defence, Martina Kakascikova, was quoted as saying by RTVS.
Delivery was approved by the Slovak cabinet last week despite criticism from mainly former opposition politicians pointing out that the caretaker cabinet of Eduard Heger, which is heading Slovakia before the snap elections held on September 30, has only limited powers.
Slovakia’s decision came just days after Poland also decided to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine. The timing of arms supplies to Ukraine is crucial now that military experts argue that the right moment to launch an offensive against the invading Russian forces is just weeks away.
Pro-Russian ex-Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Smer-SD party argued that the caretaker cabinet has only curtailed rights and cannot make decisions of military nature without the backing of the parliament.
Heger’s cabinet has also been facing criticism from another former opposition party Hlas-SD, a Smer-SD breakaway party led by Fico’s former cabinet colleague Robert Pellegrini, over the MiG-29 deliveries. Smer-SD and Hlas-SD lead the polls ahead of the non-parliamentary centrist party Progressive Slovakia.
Former Minister of Finance Igor Matovic, and head of the populist OLaNO party, which Heger left earlier this month before founding his centre-right party Democrats, said at a press conference aired by RTVS that he hopes the fighter jets will “save lives”. Matovic also said he doesn’t understand how “four fighter jets” could have flown to Ukraine when only three were supposed to be in the condition “ready to fly”.
Slovakia has been discussing giving its old grounded Soviet MiG-29s to Ukraine almost since the Russian invasion. Last December the government finally agreed to send the jets; since then it has been arranging the transfer with partners and Ukraine. Only 10 of the 30-year-old jets can be made fit to fly; three without engines will be used for spare parts.
The country will be reimbursed with €850mn in compensation from the US and EU for the MiG-29 deliveries. Slovakia will also receive 12 AH-1Z Viper US-made fighter helicopters at a reduced price. Slovakia ordered US-made F-16s four years ago and these are supposed to arrive in 2024.