EU Hopes Of Transferring Combat Aircraft To Ukraine Stumble

Poland, which like Ukraine operates the MiG-29, is one of the three Eastern European governments reluctant to part with combat aircraft.
Credit: Steve Thorne/Getty Images

European Union plans to transfer Warsaw Pact-era combat aircraft to Ukraine appear to have faltered after the Eastern European governments operating them said they would not be handing over the aircraft. 

Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia—the EU countries still operating RAC MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-25s, the types operated by Ukraine’s air force—said they would not be providing aircraft for transfer to Ukraine, citing shortfalls of combat aircraft for their own air defense.

The news represents a setback for the EU, coming just days after the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell Fontelles, said Feb. 27 that EU states would provide €450 million ($498.1 million) in lethal aid to Ukraine, including combat aircraft.

“We are going to provide even fighter jets. We are not just talking about ammunition. We are providing the most important arms,” Fontelles said at the time. 

Ukraine’s government responded by saying it could receive up to 70 aircraft from EU nations—a number far in excess of the actual number of MiG-29s and Su-25s operational in Europe. 

Fontelles was forced to backtrackon his comments the next day, saying that even with the money raised “we could not mobilize many fighters.  

“It will have to be those European countries that have fighters that can be piloted by the pilots of the Ukrainian air force, which will have to implement this aid,” he said. 

Bulgaria, Poland and Slovakia are preparing to phase out Russian types from military service in the coming years. Bulgaria and Slovakia are purchasing the Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 while Poland is introducing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But the F-16s will be delivered later than planned because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on production. 

The EU says it will still deliver lethal aid to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility. Fontelles said the EU had established a clearinghouse to keep track of Ukrainian requests, their needs and Europe’s offers.  

Ukraine has also been asking for geospatial intelligence support, Fontelles said. He confirmed that the EU would mobilize its Satellite Center in Madrid to work on that. 

“All that shows that we have been able to react quickly and in unity,” Fontelles said. “We have no other choice than standing together, as the European Union, in support of Ukraine.”

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.