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Slovakia in talks over possible transfer of MiG jets to Ukraine

Slovakia is in talks with allies about an arrangement that could allow Bratislava to send fighter jets to Ukraine, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Monday.

Kyiv has been pleading with Western governments for more weapons and equipment ahead of an expected new Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking to POLITICO following a trip to Ukraine late last week, Heger said his government has been asked to provide Ukraine with Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter aircraft and Slovak-made Zuzana self-propelled howitzers, with discussions ongoing.

Heger said his government wanted to move away from reliance on the MiGs in any case, as one “cannot sustain” Soviet equipment without a “relationship” with Russia. 

“This is equipment that we want to finish anyway, because we’re waiting for the F-16s,” he said, referring to U.S.-made jets that Slovakia is scheduled to receive in 2024.

He said Slovakia is “in a very intensive discussion with our partners” about who would protect the country’s airspace. “After that,” he added, “we can consider speaking about this equipment in regard with Ukraine as well.”

Asked if this meant Slovakia might be able to transfer some planes to Ukraine if it gets certain guarantees from Western partners, he replied: “This is what we talk about. Yeah.”

Heger did not put a number on how many MiGs Slovakia could give, the country is reported to have around a dozen.

Bratislava has already implemented one swap in recent days, sending an S-300 air defense system to Ukraine. In exchange, Slovakia is now receiving an American Patriot missile system. 

“We knew that [the] Ukrainians need as much help as possible,” Heger said of the S-300 decision. “This is the equipment that they have themselves,” he noted, adding that “they can operate it.”

“This was the right match, but we needed to have some replacement. And that’s where we got into the discussion with the Americans,” he said. 

With no quick end to the war in sight, some Western officials have suggested that Ukraine should transition away from using Soviet-designed weapons. But such a move would raise the question of how — and where — Ukrainian troops would be trained to use Western-made weapons and systems. 

Asked if his government would be open to allowing Ukrainian troops to train on Slovak soil, Heger said that “we’re having this discussion.”

Slovakia has emerged over the past weeks as a staunch ally for the government in neighboring Ukraine, pushing for fast-tracking Kyiv’s EU membership bid and offering assistance to the country as it pursues accession. 

Heger said the European Union “cannot stop” and must “help Ukraine till they win.”

And while Slovakia relies heavily on Russian oil and gas, Heger said that it is working to reduce its reliance. 

“We are trying to do everything possible and prepare for as early as possible disconnection from Russian oil and gas,” Heger said. 

“But we need the solidarity,” he said. “We are at the end of the chain,” the prime minister noted, adding that Slovakia would require “guarantees” from some countries that they “will transit what we need — our people cannot stay without gas or oil.” 

“Oil is I think a little easier, gas is a little more difficult,” Heger said.

Sanctions, he added, “must harm Putin more than harm us.”

“If they would harm us much more than Vladimir Putin,” Heger warned, “then we actually helped Vladimir Putin — not Ukraine, not us — so this is very important.”

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