Poland is set to provide Ukraine with four MiG-29 fighter jets in the coming days, Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday, becoming the first NATO country to do so.
Warsaw has taken a lead among NATO allies in supplying Kyiv with heavy weapons, including the Soviet-designed fighters. “When it comes to the MI-29 aircraft, which are still operating in the defense of Polish airspace, a decision has been taken at the highest levels, we can say confidently that we are sending MIGs to Ukraine,” Duda said.
“We have a dozen or so MIGS that we got in the 90s handed down from the German Democratic Republic and they are functional and play a part in the defense of our airspace. They are at the end of their operational life but are still functional,” Duda added.
“In the coming days we will hand over four planes to the Ukraine, remaining machines are being serviced and prepared for handover. We will replace them with deliveries of South Korean FA-50s and American F-35s,” the Polish president said.
Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw, along with his new Czech counterpart Petr Pavel, the Polish president expressed their joint backing for Kyiv.
“The Czech Republic and Poland are countries that are in the absolute vanguard when it comes to supporting Ukraine, both at humanitarian and military levels,” President Duda said.
More background: Thursday’s announcement comes after NATO allies agreed earlier this year to send modern Western battle tanks to Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his country would provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks in January, bowing to intensifying international pressure – led by the United States, Poland and a bloc of other European nations, which called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their sought-after vehicles.
The announcement was matched by the US, with President Joe Biden saying that he would provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing the administration’s longstanding resistance to requests from Kyiv for the highly sophisticated but maintenance-heavy vehicles.
Since the decision on the tanks, top Ukrainian officials have escalated their public lobbying campaign for US-made F-16 fighter jets, arguing they need them urgently to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.
But that push has been met with skepticism by US and allied officials who say the jets would be impractical, both because they require considerable training and because Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that could easily shoot them down.
CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Alex Marquardt contributed reporting to this post.