Taboos regarding military aid to Ukraine are slowly being broken down one by one. Until now, Ukraine’s partners have been cautious about probable combat aircraft delivery, despite Poland’s announcement a few days after the beginning of the war of its willingness to supply the MiG-29 “Fulcrum” to the Ukrainian Air Force.
The hitch was that the transfer had to go through the United States, which rejected the proposal while declaring they backed the Polish initiative. Another Polish demand was for a comparable aircraft to replace the Polish Mig-29.
According to John Kirby, then Pentagon spokesman, the thought of US government fighter planes flying from a US/NATO facility in Germany to fly to airspace contested with Russia above Ukraine raises major concerns for NATO.
After pushing Germany to hand over Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Poland is now attempting to force the US to hand over F-16s to Ukraine by saying it will hand over its own Mig-29 to the war-torn country.
The Polish announcement did not affect the US administration’s decision to grant Kyiv’s request for F-16s. “That has no bearing on our analysis. “It’s not an option,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
The Polish Mig-29 giveaway
On March 16, greeting his Czech counterpart, Petr Pavel, the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, announced the transfer of four MiG-29s to Ukraine.
“As a preliminary step, we are planning to transfer, in the next few days […] four completely operational aircraft to Ukraine.” Other planes are presently being tweaked and will most likely be handed “later,” according to Duda.
According to Duda, the MiG-29s are part of a batch of 22 aircraft handed over by Germany after reunification with East Germany. Duda erroneously claimed that these planes were obtained in the 1990s, while they were acquired in 2003. Only 14 of the 22 MiG-29s sold by Berlin for the symbolic euro could be regarded as fit for service.
MiG-29s were delivered to the Polish Air Force in three stages. The first batch of twelve aircraft was handed to it by the Soviet Union only a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It then recovered ten more from the Czech Republic in 1995. These are most likely the planes that will be supplied to Ukraine, as the Prague agreement for such a transfer has been obtained in principle, which Germany may not be able to do.
Poland, which claims to want to form a “coalition” committed to the MiG-29, similar to the one created for the Leopard 2 tanks, risked finding itself alone. Only two other NATO members have such aircraft: Slovakia, which retired its own in September 2022 to be replaced by F-16 Vipers, and Bulgaria. Bulgarian F-16s are expected only by 2027-28.
The difference between now and 2022 is that the Polish air force has an alternate solution, with Warsaw ordering 48 F/A-50 “Golden Eagle” light fighters from Korea Aerospace Industries.
It should also be mentioned that the Polish Mig-29s have been upgraded to NATO standards, implying that Ukraine would receive a NATO plane even if it is not a Western plane.
Slovakia joins with its Mig-29s
After weeks of debates that visibly irritated Slovakia’s defence minister, Jaroslav Nav, who stated that there is no room for Slovak politics, Slovakia followed Poland’s lead. Eduard Heger, its Prime Minister, declared on March 17 that Bratislava would supply 13 MiG-29s to Kyiv.
But there is one minor glitch. Slovakia chose to retire all of its MiG-29s in September 2022, and its air force had only eleven Mig-29s at the time, ten MiG-29AS and one MiG-29UBSn nldr. Why did the Prime Minister mention 13 planes?
The Slovak MiG-29s, like those supplied by Poland, have been brought up to NATO standards. In contrast to Warsaw, Bratislava committed this project to the Russian Aircraft Company MiG, with help from Western businesses. This was a reality between 2007 and 2008, intending to keep these planes operational until 2030.
The withdrawal of the Slovak MiG-29s before the delivery of the American F-16s was made feasible by an arrangement tying Slovakia to Poland and the Czech Republic, with these two countries now ensuring NATO airspace monitoring.
Heger also announced donating the 2K12 Koub air defence system [NATO code: SA-6 Gainful] to Ukraine. It was designed in the 1960s by the Soviet Union and consisted of a 2P25 tractor-erector-launcher outfitted with three 3M9 missiles with a range of 24,000 m and linked to a radar.
Eurofighter Typhoon for Mig-29 exchange scheme
In passing, it should be recalled that the United Kingdom intends to sell thirty Eurofighter Typhoon “Tranche 1” planes to NATO countries that will deliver MiG-29s to Ukraine. This idea, similar to that initiated by Germany for the T-72 tanks [Ringtauschs initiative – translated to ring exchange], was recently recommended during a parliamentary hearing by James Heappey, the Secretary of State for the British Forces.