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Poland to transfer MiG-29 jets to Ukraine within days

March 16, 2023

President Andrzej Duda has announced they will deliver four fighter jets to Ukraine in "the next few days," becoming the first NATO member to do so since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

MiG-29 fighter jet
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Western allies to send it powerful fighter jets, like the MiG-29 fighter jet seen here, as the war carries into its second yearImage: Rosanna van de Logt/Zoonar/picture alliance

Polish President Andrzej Duda said the nation is set to hand over Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in coming days.

The announcement comes after Poland's leaders said last week that sending the warplanes would only be done within a larger international coalition. On Tuesday, Duda did not indicate that such coalition had been formed.

The move to send the MiG-29 planes would make Poland the first NATO member to deliver fighter jets that Kyiv has appealed for in order to fight Russian forces.

"In the coming days we will first transfer, if I remember correctly, four fully operational planes to Ukraine," Duda told a news conference in the capital, Warsaw.

Duda said that Poland's air force would replace the planes it gives to Ukraine with South Korean-made FA-50 jets and American-made F-35s.

Why MiGs are easier than F-16s

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in surprise visits last month to the UK, France and Brussels, home to the European Union institutions, made strong appeals for fighter jets.

But Kyiv is seeking more modern Western-made fighter jets like the F-16s. US officials, however, have ruled out providing them.

Washington said on Thursday said their decision to not supply Kyiv with F-16s remained unchanged, after the Polish announcement. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that: "It doesn't change our calculus with regards to F-16s."

Ukraine's Air Force already operates Su-24, Su-25 and MiG-29 Soviet-era fighter jets, meaning its pilots are familiar with these systems. 

But, Ukrainian pilots would have to be trained to fly the planes which typically takes 9 months, and the decision would not be a practical one in the short term.

Jim Townsend, a former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, explained to DW this January why he thinks the MiGs would be a better option for Ukrainian forces in the short-term. 

"They're aircraft that Ukraine has flown before and can support. And I think we need to turn to that first. And it might be, in order for those planes to be sent to Ukraine, the US could backfill with F-16s to that country that is giving up their former Soviet aircraft."

Some training underway in UK

On the other hand, while the UK promised to train Ukrainian air forces to fly combat jets in February, the UK's Royal Air Forces itself does not operate F-16s.

The UK said its decision to train pilots to fly fighter jets didn't mean it was looking to send their jets to Kyiv, rather that it wanted to be ready more quickly should a decision change in the future. Britain also noted that given Ukraine's air force equipment losses, it currently had more fighter pilots than aircraft fit to fly.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the national parliament in January that Germany was clear from the very early days of war that it would not send combat aircraft.

"I made it clear very early on that we are not talking about combat aircraft, and I am doing the same here,” Scholz said.

Ukraine and Russia have lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides and Ukrainian forces are training for a spring offensive.

Fighting in Bakhmut also continues to rage, as the Kremlin deploys huge resources in a bid to hold the town. 

Lithuanian President: 'We should cross every red line'

rm/msh (AP, Reuters)