Slovakia basks under the NATO umbrella, sends old weapons to Ukraine
LEST, Slovakia (AP) – Former Soviet satellite Slovakia has been a NATO member since 2004, but belonging to the world’s largest military alliance really began after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago.
The small central European country is now home to thousands of NATO troops while allied planes patrol its skies, so Bratislava can consider becoming the first nation to send fighter jets to neighboring Ukraine – while getting rid of its cumbersome Soviet-era planes.
Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad is grateful.
“I would say that Slovak Republic is a safer country in a less safe world,” Nad told the AP in an interview in Bratislava.
“We remember well what it was like to have occupiers on our territory,” he added, referring to the Soviet-led military invasion of former Czechoslovakia in 1968 – from which Slovakia seceded in 1993, four years ago after the fall of the communist regime, peacefully seceded.
The country of 5.4 million is home to a battle group including troops from the United States, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and the Czech Republic while NATO moved to calm the members on his east flank worried about a possible Russian threat.
“The message behind the deployment of all these units is simple,” Czech Colonel Karel Navratil, the battle group’s commander, told the Associated Press. “Our job is to deter…to prevent a potential aggressor from expanding its aggression to NATO member countries.”
Similar units were created in Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. They join four others deployed to the three Baltic States and Poland in 2017 to expand NATO’s presence from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.
At the Lest military training area in central Slovakia, among snow-capped hills, troops recently conducted joint exercises involving scenarios such as drone or artillery strikes, responding to a chemical weapons attack, or recapturing areas captured by enemy forces.
The multinational force is expected to be “combat ready” in March, Navratil said.
Slovakia is also working to upgrade its own armed forces to NATO standards. And that has proved to be a boon for embattled Ukraine, where much of the old Soviet-era Slovak heavy weapons have ended up.
These included S-300 air defense missiles, helicopters, thousands of Grad multiple launcher missiles and dozens of armored vehicles. In return, Slovakia has received US Patriot air defense batteries temporarily stationed with American, German and Dutch troops, and German Leopard tanks and Mantis air defense systems.
All in all, Slovakia has given Ukraine almost 168 million euros ($179 million) worth of weapons and received back more than 82 million euros ($87 million) through a special EU fund.
Amid renewed appeals to Western countries for fighter jetsSlovakia is considering giving Ukraine 10 of its 11 Soviet-made MiG-29 planes – with the 11th being reserved for a Slovakian museum, according to Defense Minister Nad.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy requested the planes directly from Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger at an EU summit in Brussels this month.
If Slovakia agrees, it will be the first NATO member to do so.
It retired its MiGs over the summer for lack of spare parts and maintenance experts after Russian technicians returned home. But the Ukrainian Air Force flying MiG 29s would be happy to have them.
“We will never use the MiGs again,” said Nad. “They are of no real value to us. If we hand them over to Ukraine, they can help save their lives.”
A final decision is expected within days or weeks.
Since the Slovakian MiGs were mothballed, NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic have been monitoring Slovakian airspace, with Hungary set to join later this year.
Bratislava has signed a contract to purchase 14 US F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets, but the start of their deliveries has been delayed by two years to early 2024.
Nad stressed that his country had responded to Ukraine’s arms needs despite a long-term political crisis that led to the fall of the government after a no-confidence vote in December.
“Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russian aggression is absolutely in our national, state, security and defense interests,” he said.
Not everyone in Slovakia thinks like that.
President Zuzana Caputova urged the government to proceed with limited powers until the early elections in Septemberwhere the opposition has a good chance of winning.
Its leaders include populist former Prime Minister Robert Fico, who opposes military support for Ukraine and EU sanctions on Russia, saying the Slovakian government has no mandate to supply fighter jets to Ukraine.
The government is awaiting legal advice on the matter.
But Nad told The AP that the MiG arrangement would be “really a win-win for everyone involved”.
“And from that point of view, I really can’t imagine anyone reasonably thinking that they wouldn’t help Ukraine, (save) lives and at the same time strengthen our defenses,” he added.
https://news.yahoo.com/slovakia-basks-under-nato-umbrella-085256444.html Slovakia basks under the NATO umbrella, sends old weapons to Ukraine