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Ukraine updates: Slovakia to send MIG-29 jets to Ukraine

March 17, 2023

Slovakia has decided to send 13 MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian forces have made some progress in the battle for the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, according to British intelligence. DW has the latest.

Slovakian Mig-29
Slovakia approved sending its MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, a day after Poland announced a similar moveImage: Yorick Jansens/BELGA/dpa/picture alliance

The Slovak government approved sending 13 MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Friday, stepping up its military assistance to Kyiv in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Slovakia is the second country to send war planes to Kyiv after Poland, which announced on Thursday it would do so.

Its fleet of MiG-29 planes was retired last summer, and most of them are not in operational condition. It will send those that are operational, and the rest will go for spare parts.

Slovakia will also supply part of its KUB air-defence system, Heger said.

NATO allies in the former communist Eastern Europe such as Poland and Slovakia have been particularly vocal supporters of Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

On Thursday, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that Poland will send four MIG-29 jets to Ukraine in the next few days.

Both Poland and Slovakia had indicated they were ready to hand over their planes, but only as part of a wider international coalition doing the same. It remains unclear whether other countries would also share their military planes.

The debate over whether to provide non-NATO member Ukraine with military fighter jets started last year, but NATO allies held off, citing concern about escalating the alliance's role in the war. 

Why Ukraine is pleading for Western fighter jets

Here are some of the other notable developments concerning the war on Friday, March 17:

ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin over Ukraine war crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of being responsible for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities during its one-year invasion of its neighbor.

The ICC issued the warrant for Putin's arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

Separately the court issued warrants for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia's Commissioner for Children’s Rights, on the same charges.

Russia tends not to cooperate with international extraditions.

Russia to award pilots involved in US drone crash incident

Russia's Defense Ministry said it will decorate pilots involved in an incident this week that led to an American drone to crash over the Black Sea.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has recommended the fighter pilots for a medal, the ministry said. Shoigu claimed the pilots prevented the US drone from entering Russian-restricted airspace.

Moscow has said that it established airspace restrictions over the Black Sea as part of its military intervention in Ukraine in accordance with international norms.

Washington released footage Thursday of what it said showed Russian military jets bearing down on the drone but Moscow maintains the aircraft was downed after it lost control.

However, Moscow reiterated that the pilots "did not use on-board weapons, made no contact with the UAV and safely returned to their home airfield."

Washington said after the incident that it would "continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows."

Poland urges other allies to send jets to Ukraine — security analyst

Fabrice Pothier, a security analyst and CEO of Rasmussen Global, a political consultancy, told DW why Poland is taking the initiative as the first NATO member to promise fighter jets to Ukraine in this war.

According to Pothier, it's an attempt by Warsaw to push the other allies to chip in with more fighter jets for Ukraine. He reminded that this issue is time sensitive, as it takes a very long time to train Ukrainian pilots to fly not only MiG-29, but potentially F-16 fighter jets.

Pothier said that having more fighter jets will allow the Ukrainian forces to contest more the air domain from the Russian air force and to target air targets, especially cruise missiles, which the Russians keep on using against critical infrastructure and civilian population centers. 

“So the fighter jets are not just to do dogfights against Russian fighter jets, but more importantly to protect forces and civilians,” he said.

Russia gained footholds in center of Bakhmut

Russian forces have made progress in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut. In the past few days, some units of the Russian army and mercenaries from the Wagner Group have gained a foothold west of the Bakhmutka River in the center of the contested town, the British Defense Ministry said on Friday.

"Over the preceding week, the river had marked the front line. Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to defend the west of the town," the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.

However, more broadly across the front line, Russia is conducting some of the lowest rates of local offensive action that has been seen since at least January 2023, according to the update.

The British ministry assumes it is most likely because Russian forces have temporarily depleted the deployed formations' combat power to such an extent that even local offensive actions are not currently sustainable.

Russian leaders will likely seek to regenerate the offensive potential of the force once personnel and munition stocks are replenished. In the meantime, commanders will likely be forced to choose between carrying out offensive operations and conducting a credible defence of the full line, the update said.

China's President Xi Jinping to visit Russia next week

Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to travel to Russia next week. The state visit is at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is scheduled for next Monday to Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry announced.

It will be the first visit by the Chinese head of state and party leader to Moscow since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In February, China suggested a ceasefire and peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in a position paper.

However, there was disappointment in Western countries that the paper did not provide for the withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied territories in Ukraine. Most recently, Beijing reacted angrily to warnings from the US that China might be about to supply weapons to Russia.

According to Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov, Putin will discuss the Ukraine conflict with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during Xi's state visit to Moscow next week.

Ushakov also said Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu would take part in talks with Xi, and that "military-technical cooperation" would be discussed during the visit.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that Xi should use a trip to Moscow to encourage President Vladimir Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine.

"If China wants to play a genuine role in restoring sovereignty to Ukraine, then we would obviously welcome that," the spokesperson told reporters.

dh/jcg (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)