Inside The Polish-Led Push To Send Fighter Jets To Ukraine – Bypassing Germany
A bloc of eastern European countries has distanced themselves from Western Europe — Germany in particular — by sending Soviet era jets to Ukraine, part of growing push to supply the country with Western-made fighter jets.
Following Poland’s lead, Slovakia has now declared its plans to send MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. The U.S. may well have been kept informed of the decisions, but Warsaw did not tell the German government. Some Eastern European allies are distancing themselves from Western Europe. And there’s a good reason for that.
Once again Poland is pushing ahead with supplying weapons to Ukraine. “We can say that we will shortly be sending MiG fighter jets to Ukraine,” said President Andrzej Duda on Thursday in Warsaw, during a visit from the Czech President Petr Pavel – announcing it almost in passing, as seems to be Duda’s way.
Duda went one step further than his Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who only the day before had set out a timeline for Poland to provide jets. He said it would take four to six weeks, then the President and commander-in-chief announced a shorter timeline of only a few days.
Duda’s announcement echoes his visit to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv in January, when he declared that Poland was ready to supply the Ukrainian army with German-manufactured Leopard 2 tanks — without Germany’s agreement, if necessary.
Passing on armaments to third parties generally requires an export license. So Poland’s announcement about tanks was a way to publicly put pressure on Germany – and therefore clear a path for a European coalition to supply Leopard 2 tanks. The first battle tanks have now been delivered, and a similar situation looks set to play out with fighter jets.
In a few days’ time, the first four Polish MiG-29 jets are due to arrive in Ukraine, with eight more to follow. Before the Russian invasion began, it is estimated that Ukraine had 50 of these Soviet-era jets.
Short training periods
It is not known how many have been destroyed or how many are still operational. Because the Ukrainian air force already used MiG-29 jets, there is no need for pilots to undergo lengthy training programs. The jets can be quickly put to use.
On Friday, Slovakia followed suit. Prime Minister Eduard Heger tweeted that his government had agreed to supply Ukraine with a total of 13 MiG-29 jets. That may represent Slovakia’s entire supply of these jets, with 11 fully operational and two used for spare parts.
We can assume that this is a coordinated plan between Poland and Slovakia.
In response to a request from the Welt am Sonntag, the Slovakian Ministry of Defense provided no details and insisted that “international negotiations” still needed to take place. The Slovakian announcement is especially surprising because it is a controversial decision among the population. The government is taking a risk, as there will be an early election in September. Despite all this, between them, Poland and Slovakia will be supplying Ukraine with 25 jets.
May 3, 2019, Warsaw, Poland - Military parade held on 20th anniversary of Poland's NATO membership and 15th anniversary of membership at Europea Union.
Pacific Press / Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire
We can assume that this is a coordinated plan between Poland and Slovakia. That means Poland has formed a “small coalition” of countries that use MiG-29 jets – with the aim of quickly helping Ukraine and removing the taboo about the Western alliance supplying fighter jets, just as it did with the battle tanks. The Czech Republic is also part of this new bloc.
It is no coincidence that the Polish officials’ public announcements came during President Pavel’s two-day visit to Poland. Because most of the Polish MiG jets come from the Czech Republic, alongside perhaps a few from East German stocks.
The German government may soon be faced with the question of providing an export license.
German Minister of Defense Boris Pistorius admitted that he was not informed about Poland’s plans. The fact that the German government was not involved in such a fundamental security decision made by NATO allies does not look good.
However, the German government may soon be faced with the question of providing an export license. In total, Poland has 28 MiG-29 jets, including some from East German stocks, which were given to the Polish air force in 2004 for the symbolic price of one euro. In Warsaw, there are already ideas circulating about possibly giving Ukraine their entire fleet of MiGs.
The German Chancellor may already be aware of that. It’s unclear how Scholz would react to a Polish request, since he has already proved reluctant to supply Ukraine with jets.
Supplying Western-manufactured jets
“In an alliance, someone must take the first step. We have done that and now we hope that, as well as Slovakia, other countries will also provide planes,” a high-ranking colleague of the Polish Prime Minister told the Welt am Sonntag. It should be “our joint, concerted action,” he said.
In Polish government circles, they are apparently assuming that now is the time to prepare the ground for supplying Western-manufactured fighter jets to Ukraine. “Supplying F-16 jets is more complicated and it will be more difficult to build a European coalition for this than it was for the Leopard tanks. But we should not rule out supplying Ukraine with modern Western planes,” said the Polish government official.
The White House has ruled out supplying American F-16 jets, but it does not seem to be trying to dissuade its allies from doing so. According to a report from the Washington Post, staff at the Pentagon are expecting Joe Biden to change his mind on this. But that has not happened yet.
However, we can safely assume that the Americans were informed about Poland’s plans. Warsaw and Washington work closely together in matters of security. This week CIA director William Burns was in the Polish capital. It is known that he met with President Duda, his chief foreign policy advisor Marcin Przydacz and the Head of the Polish National Security Bureau Jacek Siewiera.
Not only does the U.S. play an important role as a guarantor of Poland’s security, but it is also likely that the gaps in the Polish stock of jets would be filled with ultra-modern American F-35 stealth planes.
Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Poland was part of the F-35 program. It is due to receive 32 jets. In addition, Warsaw has ordered 48 FA-50 fighter jets from South Korea, which are comparable to the F-16 model. Poland already has 48 of American fighter jets in service.
If and when Poland can supply Ukraine with further MiGs and – in the context of a coalition of Western allies, perhaps even F-16s – will depend on how quickly these jets are supplied. Germany will not play a key role in these decisions.