It looks like the Ukrainian air force is on its own.
Rumors circulated this week that NATO countries might restock Ukraine’s air force with Soviet-era jets, sending over aging Russian-built MiGs and Sukhoi fighters owned by NATO members to replace those Ukraine has lost in fighting with Russia in the last week.
But that plan appears dead after Polish President Andrzej Duda said it was not happening on Poland’s end.
“We are not sending any jets to Ukraine because that would open a military interference in the Ukrainian conflict,” Duda said at a Tuesday, March 1, press conference on Łask Air Base, referring to statements made by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “We are not joining that conflict. NATO is not a party to that conflict.”
European Union officials did confirm Sunday that a military aid package worth 500 million euros, about $557 million, was in the works, which would include fighter jets, air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment.
Ukraine’s air force flies aging, though still potent, Soviet-era MiGs and Sukhoi jets, including the MiG-29 Fulcrum, a fighter designed to counter fighters like the United States’ Cold War-era F-15 and F-16.
While most NATO countries build their own jets or fly US-built fighters, Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria all have aging MiG-29s in their fleets. On paper, Ukrainian pilots might be able to step into those replacement jets with very little retraining.
But Duda said Poland will not part with its MiGs. He noted that Poland is supporting Ukrainians with humanitarian aid, but emphasized the nation is “not going to send any jets to the Ukrainian airspace.”
According to the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft, the Ukrainian air force began its defense against the Russian invasion with 175 aircraft in its inventory, a number that includes helicopters. In all, WDMMA estimates that Ukraine had 28 Su-27s and 21 MiG-29s, along with 12 Su-24 close air support fighters. In all, Ukrainians boasted the seventh-largest air force in Europe, but fell far behind Russia’s, the largest. The Russian air force, according to WDMMA, possessed over 1,000 fighters, including more than 200 of each of the jets flown by Ukraine.
And Ukraine is unlikely to produce any new jets while under attack, as the Russians have targeted Ukrainian aviation companies.
The short-lived plan to send jets to Ukraine arose Sunday when EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell appeared to pledge them during a press conference announcing the large-scale military aid package.
“We’re going to provide even fighting jets. We’re not talking about just ammunition. We are providing more important arms to go to a war,” Borrell said.