Slovakia’s acting Prime Minister Eduard Heger would like to send MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, but at the moment, the constitution and opposition seem to be standing in his way.
A year of Russia’s war in Ukraine, a year of help from European Union countries and others that have not lost hope in a Ukrainian victory: Over the past 12 months, tanks, defense systems, helicopters and tons of military equipment have been sent across NATO’s eastern border to support Ukraine.
Now, NATO member Slovakia could become the first country to send fighter jets to the war-torn country. So far, no other country has done so. “It should not matter if we’re the first, because when it comes to doing the right thing, we are rarely the first,” said caretaker Prime Minister Eduard Heger.
Indeed, what Slovakia does next is of key importance because it could affect the way other states help Ukraine. However, the path to the actual supply of the jets will not be easy, as the Slovak constitution would appear to block such a move by a caretaker government and the opposition is not yet convinced that supplying jets would be a good idea.
Ukrainian President’s appeal for fighter jets
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Heger at a summit of the European Council on February 9 and asked him to supply Ukraine with MiG-29 fighter jets. Zelenskyy’s request for Slovakia’s fighter jets was part of a wider appeal for help from European countries.
Heger expressed his willingness to deliver the Soviet-designed jets to Ukraine even though the Slovak government is currently in a caretaker role after being ousted in a vote of no confidence last December.
Moreover, according to the Slovak constitution, a caretaker government cannot pass laws concerning essential international affairs. However, the constitution does not actually specify what these affairs are, and parliamentary parties cannot agree on them either.
Could the delivery of jets drag Slovakia into the war?
While Heger has pledged to “invest a maximum effort into fulfilling Ukraine’s request,” opposition parties such as Smer-SD fear that such a move could drag Slovakia into the war. Although nominally a social democratic party, Smer-SD is known for its nationalist, right-wing and pro-Russian positions. It is now targeting voters who are worried about what sending the jets to Ukraine could mean for Slovakia.
The delivery of MiG-29 jets to Ukraine would not drag Slovakia into the war, said Juraj Krupa, chairman of the National Council Committee for Safety and Defense and member of the Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS). “We have sent other technology to Ukraine, and nothing happened. People who scare others with opinions like this are simply pro-Russian trolls,” he said in a media statement.
Support for parties opposed to the move on the rise
The number of Slovaks who believe the arguments put forward by Smer-SD party leader Robert Fico would appear to be growing. The latest polls give Fico almost 18% of votes and indicate that Smer-SD is now the strongest party in Slovakia.
Many political experts fear what might come if Smer-SD does win the general election that is due to take place in September and Fico becomes PM. In statements reminiscent of Viktor Orban, the prime minister of neighboring Hungary, Fico has vowed to halt weapons deliveries to Ukraine.
Would the supply of jets be unconstitutional?
Vincent Bujnak, an expert in constitutional law at the Comenius University in Bratislava, thinks that even if the parliament agreed to send fighter jets to Ukraine, such a move would be unconstitutional. “The parliament is not above our constitution,” he told DW. “It has already backed a motion of no confidence. It cannot give back the authority that has been taken from the government.”
Bujnak thinks that while the caretaker prime minister could ask the Constitutional Court to interpret the constitution in this respect, it is unlikely he will because the answer would probably be negative. What’s more, a court ruling could take months or even years, and Ukraine needs help right now.
“The only real option we have here is to have a new government with full authority. Only the president can do this,” he said. The other option would be to change the constitution, which would require the backing of 90 MPs. This is unlikely to happen as the government has not been able to get the backing of 76 MPs required to pass laws in recent months.
Does Slovakia not need its MiG-29 fighter jets?
Slovakia obtained the Russian fighter jets in the early 1990s for the purpose of protecting its airspace. It originally had 24 MiG-29s but reduced the number to 11 over time. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Slovak Army grounded the jets because EU countries stopped importing the Russian components needed for the jets’ maintenance and repair. Ukraine, on the other hand, says that it has the parts needed to fly the jets.
Slovakia is not currently using the MiGs to protect its airspace, as the country uses the Patriot and Mantis air defense systems. In addition, as part of NATO, it is also protected by Hungarian, Polish and Czech fighter jets. Slovakia has ordered new F-16 fighter jets from the US, but their delivery has been slowed down due to a lack of chips and the pandemic.
Would Slovakia give the jets or sell them to Ukraine?
Another aspect of the debate is whether Slovakia would sell the jets to Ukraine or give them for free. When the jets were new, their estimated value was around €300 million ($318 million). However, given the age of the aircraft, this figure is likely to be significantly lower now.
Deputy Speaker of the National Council Peter Pcolinsky said that while he was not opposed to sending the jets to Ukraine, Slovakia must get something in return. What that something would be remains unclear. Options include Ukraine or the European Commission paying for the jets or NATO providing Slovakia with other army technology to replace the MiG-29s.
Slovakia was one of the first countries to help its eastern neighbor by sending the S-300 air force protection system to the front. It has also provided 8 howitzers Zuzana 2, 17 Mi-2 army helicopters and ammunition for the GRAD rocket launcher system.
Edited by Keno Verseck and Aingeal Flanagan
Author: Sona Otajovicova