The first four of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets that Slovakia decided to give Ukraine have been transferred to the Ukrainian air force.
The warplanes were flown from Slovakia to Ukraine on Thursday by Ukrainian pilots with help from the Slovak Air Force.
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“I thank [all] involved for a fantastic professional job,” Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said.
The ministry said the remaining MiG-29s will be handed over to the Ukrainian side in the coming weeks. It said it will not provide any additional details until they are safely in Ukraine.
The Slovak government approved a plan to give Ukraine its fleet of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets last Friday, becoming the second NATO member to heed the Ukrainian government’s pleas for fighter aircraft to help defend against Russia’s invasion.
Slovakia previously signed a deal to buy 14 US F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets, but delivery was pushed back two years with the first aircraft to arrive in early 2024.
The defence ministry said on Wednesday the United States offered Slovakia 12 new military helicopters as compensation for the fighter jets the European country is giving Ukraine.
Under the offer, Slovakia would pay $340m for the Bell AH-1Z attack choppers in a deal worth about $1bn. US foreign military financing would cover the other $660m.
Alongside the offer of US equipment, Slovakia will receive 250m euros ($269m) in European Union compensation, Nad said.
Slovakia, a NATO member on the military alliance’s eastern flank, currently has no combat helicopters.
It retired its fleet of MiG jets last summer and has relied on central European neighbours the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary for air defence support.
Most advanced versions
At the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s air force was spearheaded by 50 MiG-29 fighters and 32 Sukhoi-27s but they were overmatched by Russian aircraft.
Ukraine has suggested it wants some of the most advanced versions of the American-made F-16 fighter jets.
So far Kyiv has won support from Baltic nations and Poland in its quest to obtain fighter jets. But several Western leaders have expressed concern that providing warplanes could provoke the Kremlin and draw their countries deeper into the conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people and wreaked massive destruction.
Russia has said NATO supplying increasingly sophisticated weapons will only prolong the war, and it has characterised the alliance as directly participating in the conflict.