Poland has become the first NATO member to pledge fighter jets to Ukraine, amid the ongoing war with Russia. The Polish president, Andrzej Duda, announced on Thursday that they will send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in “the next few days”. Poland has 28 MiG-29s that were inherited from East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall and are due to be replaced by South Korean FA-50s and US F-35s.
Ukraine has been appealing for fighter jets from its Western allies since Russia invaded its territory last year. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has visited the UK, France and Brussels to make his case for more military support . However, the US and UK have ruled out providing their F-16s and Typhoon combat aircraft respectively, arguing that they require too much training, ground support and long runways to be of any short-term help to Ukraine.
The decision by Poland to send MiG-29s is a significant escalation of military backing for Ukraine and could lead to other NATO members following suit. Slovakia, Finland and the Netherlands have all said they would consider supplying Ukraine with warplanes. The UK has offered to provide air cover for any eastern European country willing to supply Kyiv with Soviet-era jets. Some European countries have adopted a policy of ambiguity over what kind of military support could come if this war was to span over several years.
Russia has not yet reacted officially to Poland’s announcement, but it is likely to view it as a provocation and a direct participation in the war. Russia has accused NATO of interfering in its “near abroad” and threatening its security interests. Russia has also warned that it will use nuclear weapons if necessary to defend itself against any aggression from NATO. Russia has deployed thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine and has been conducting airstrikes and artillery attacks on Ukrainian positions.
The delivery of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine could increase the risk of a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia in the region. It could also boost Ukraine’s morale and deterrence capabilities against Russian forces. However, it is unlikely that four MiG-29s will make a decisive difference in the outcome of the war, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives so far.