Poland said it would send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in the coming days – the first Western country to provide fighter jets to Kiev as it prepares a counterattack against Russia’s invading forces.
The move puts Poland back at the center of European policy-making on Ukraine, following successful efforts by Warsaw earlier this year to put together a coalition of countries willing to send German-made Panther 2 tanks to Kiev.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said Poland would reach its own reserves of Soviet-built aircraft routinely flown by Ukrainian pilots. Poland’s own small fleet was acquired from former East German stocks in the 1990s and is currently in service and preparing for handover, he said.
“In the coming days, we are handing over four aircraft to Ukraine in full operational order,” he said during a news conference in Warsaw with newly-elected President of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel.
Mr. Duda suggested that other flights were being prepared and deliveries would continue. He said the aircraft in Poland’s stockpile will be replaced first with deliveries of South Korean FA-50s and later US F-35s.
Earlier this week, the Polish government said a coalition of countries was ready to send Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Polish state news agency PAP that Warsaw would deliver its own planes in 4-6 weeks. An official at the country’s Bureau of National Security said Poland could send 4-5 planes a week from now “to start.”
“Our security will not be compromised,” government spokesman Piotr Mueller said Thursday. “We will always keep the Russian front off our borders.”
The jet delivery is the latest show of support from Poland and other European countries as Ukraine prepares for a spring offensive against Russian defensive positions dug in over the winter.
Ukrainian pilots have flown MiG-29 multi-role fighters since the breakup of the Soviet Union, although neither Russia nor Ukraine has been able to gain air superiority in the conflict, as air defense is too expensive for either side.
The additional aircraft, which Ukraine has requested since the start of the war, will help Kyiv replenish much-needed stocks of aircraft. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday that Warsaw was considering the delivery of US-made F-16 fighter jets, which would give the Ukrainians a qualitative edge over the Russians.
Flying the F-16s would require significant pilot-training and logistical support for Ukraine.
MiGs can play a key role in Ukraine’s planned offensive, attacking Russian forces, and protecting Ukrainian troops. Kyiv will keep a small number of fighter jets away from Russian-controlled territory and lines of communication to reduce the risk of being shot down. Yet by operating in close coordination with ground forces, in what military strategists call combined arms maneuvers, even remotely piloted aircraft can significantly increase the impact of an attack.
Ukrainian MiG-29s now carry US-supplied weapons, including AGM-88 high-velocity anti-radiation missiles, or HARMs, which can intercept and destroy air-defense radars up to 50 miles away. Damaging or destroying radars that normally operate with surface-to-air missile systems would give all Ukrainian aircraft greater freedom of flight.
MiGs now fire US Joint Direct Attack Weapons-Extended Range, or JDAM-ER, precision-guided munitions. Pop-out wings mean it can hit targets up to 45 miles away.
Air-launched precision weapons would allow Ukraine to turn what has so far been a ground war into a three-dimensional battlefield, forcing Russia to act with its own forces and equipment.
While the planes may be equipped with NATO-specific parts, the time it takes to prepare deliveries will allow countries to remove any equipment sensitive enough to fall into Russian hands.
The move could further embroil Europe in the Ukrainian conflict, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the West to avoid. Ukraine is also working to repair several of its military airstrips that were damaged in the early stages of the invasion.
The Polish initiative comes as Ukraine struggles to fend off Russian offensives around the eastern city of Baghmut.
Ukraine’s military released footage Wednesday of what it said was a Russian fighter jet shot down over the city. The video showed a Ukrainian soldier deploying a shoulder-launched missile, followed by a plume of smoke and a white parachute descending from rubble on the ground in the distance.
Ukraine’s military and political leadership is committed to the security of Pakmut, which Russia sees as its main immediate target.
Ukrainian commanders say Kiev is preparing to launch a spring offensive to crush Russian forces there. Russia wants to take Pakmuth to push towards bigger cities in the east.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon on Tuesday released footage of what it called an “unsafe and unprofessional interception” of a US surveillance drone by two Russian Su-27 fighter jets. The video shows a Russian jet dumping fuel on a US MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone. As the second plane approaches for another pass, the camera cuts out. When it restarts, one of the drone’s propellers seems bent.
The collision knocked out part of the MQ-9 drone and its operators guided it below the water.
Even as the US and Russia aim to avoid incidents that could escalate tensions and expand the war in Ukraine, the conflict shows how closely their armed forces intersect on the edges of the conflict zone as Washington continues to provide support to Ukraine. States against taking a larger share. The United States has provided Kiev with more than $30 billion in military aid and equipment and intelligence.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called on Russian business tycoons to invest in the country’s economy, which he argued has endured the West’s “sanctions war”.
After the war started, Mr. In the first meeting between Putin and some of the country’s top businessmen, he urged Russian companies to take over sectors vacated by European and American firms that left in the wake of the invasion.
The Russian economy performed better than expected last year due to a combination of higher energy revenues and a boost in military production. But this year, analysts say the long-term economic outlook has darkened as Western sanctions now target the country’s oil revenues, rising war spending and widening budget deficits.
James Marson and Daniel Michaels contributed to this article.
Write to Thomas Grove at [email protected]
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