Slovakia Agrees to Give Ukraine Fleet of Soviet Warplanes

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia (AP) -- Slovakia's government on Friday approved a plan to give Ukraine its fleet of 13 Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets, becoming the second NATO member country to heed the Ukrainian government's pleas for warplanes to help defend against Russia's invasion.

Announcing the decision, Prime Minister Eduard Heger told a news conference that his government is "on the right side of history." Earlier, Heger tweeted that military aid was key to ensuring Ukraine can defend itself and all of Europe against Russia.

Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said Slovakia will receive 200 million euros ($213 million) from the European Union as compensation and unspecified arms from the United States worth 700 million euros ($745 million).

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly asked Western countries for fighter jets. He appealed directly to Heger for aircraft at a European Union summit in Brussels last month.

Slovakia grounded its MiGs in the summer due to a lack of spare parts and expertise to help maintain them after Russian technicians returned home. Ukraine's air force continues to use MiG 29s.

In light of the absence of its own aircraft, Slovakia's fellow NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic have stepped up to monitor Slovak air space, with Hungary set to join later this year.

Bratislava has signed a deal to buy 14 U.S. F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets, but delivery has been pushed back two years to early 2024.

On Thursday, Poland's President Andrzej Duda said his country would give Ukraine around a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets, starting with four of the Soviet-era warplanes delivered in the coming days.

Both Poland and Slovakia had indicated earlier they were ready to hand over their planes, but only as part of a wider international coalition doing the same.

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.