A pact that would have allowed Ukrainian pilots to operate combat jets sponsored by European Union members has fallen through.
Over the span of 48 hours, the EU said it reached an agreement with member states that allow Ukrainian airmen to begin flying secondhand Russian jet fighters, only for those nations to deny any such agreement, even as Kyiv heralded the jets’ imminent arrival.
The deal’s collapse came as European countries prepare to unveil new armament supplies for Ukraine, ranging from anti-armor, as well as anti-air missiles, to artillery and emergency supplies.
However, EU security director Josep Borrell’s declaration on Sunday that fighter jets were also on the way seemed to be a game-changer for European military support.
By Monday, Borrell had been forced to backtrack on his statement, admitting any payments would be made “bilaterally” by specific EU members, rather than by the EU itself.
This suspicion was only intensified when Ukraine claimed that its pilots were in Poland today picking up the fighter jets.
Even if these were Polish Mig-29s, they would have upgraded Western avionics. Ukrainian pilots would need new training to fly them well. pic.twitter.com/HCJmVR3Kpr
— Clint Ehrlich (@ClintEhrlich) March 1, 2022
Shortly after, a Ukrainian government employee informed Politico that Ukrainian pilots had been dispatched to Poland to pick up the aircraft.
The Ukrainian parliament stated that planes representing Slovakia, Bulgaria, as well as Poland, would be arriving soon.
However, on Tuesday, Bulgaria, as well as Slovakia, declared there was no agreement to send jets. Poland’s president claimed no aircraft would be flying anytime in the near future.
“Humanitarian assistance is being provided to Ukrainians. However, we will not send any planes into Ukrainian territory,” said President Andrzej Duda.
The Political Complications
Slovakia’s small crew of MiG-29 warplanes are the nation’s only fighter planes; they are maintained under lease by Russian workers, rendering their transfer a difficult sell in Bratislava.
The Slovakian administration is also in negotiations with Poland to just provide airspace security; they will need their MiG-29s until that agreement is struck.
When questioned if Slovakia would ever move its MiGs to Ukraine in a question and answer session with a Slovak newspaper on Tuesday, Minister of Defense Jaroslav Nad said, “There is a conceptual possibility.”
“I don’t know when we will reach a deal with the Poles, whenever the Poles will be able to begin safeguarding our airspace.”
There's a disturbing lack of clarity about what this EU supply of "fighter jets" precisely entails. Ukraine fighter pilots will now "base on" Polish airports, meaning "combat tasks" will be launched from a NATO member state? Hello, anyone see the glaring escalatory danger here? pic.twitter.com/wwxQgZwNtA
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) March 1, 2022
The Ukrainian legislature announced on Monday that Europe was deploying 70 jet fighters to Ukraine, namely 28 MiG-29s from Poland, 12 from Slovakia, and 16 from Bulgaria, as well as 14 Su-25s from Bulgaria.
The jet fighter controversy came on the heels of a flurry of news releases over the weekend that saw European leaders pledge a slew of new weapons to the Ukrainian military to aid in the fight against intruding Russian troops.
This is an explicit and very public acknowledgment of Europe’s newfound willingness to inflict pain on the Russian government for its military aggression.
With Russian anti-aircraft missiles and fighters aircraft closing the air routes to Kyiv, the US and European powers reportedly began bringing armaments into the nation by road.