March 17 (UPI) — Slovakia has agreed to send more than a dozen fighter jets to Ukraine following a similar move by Poland that prompted an immediate rebuke from Moscow.
Saying “promises must be kept,” Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger announced his government had approved 13 MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine one day after Poland pledged to send four of the Soviet-era warplanes that Ukrainian pilots have been trained to fly.
The moves were seen as a critical moment in the conflict and expected to put pressure on other NATO allies to supply Ukraine with jets and other military equipment in hopes of outlasting a diminished Russian army.
The Kremlin blasted the latest military aid while also accusing NATO of deepening its involvement in the war.
“It seems that these countries are thus engaged in the disposal of old unnecessary equipment,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday, referring to the aging fleet of jets that Slovakia grounded last year and no longer uses. “Of course, during the special military operation, all this equipment will be subject to destruction.”
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky had previously called for more weaponry, including boosting air defenses with modern fighter jets like the American F-16, but that idea has since fizzled due to the long time it would take to train the pilots.
When the war began more than a year ago, Ukraine had about 120 warplanes, mostly aging MiG-29s and Su-27s.
Friday’s developments come as Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping were planning to meet Monday in Moscow amid speculation that Beijing could soon help Russia militarily in Ukraine.
Last month, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned Beijing against sending any weapons to Russia.
So far, China has remained on the sidelines of the war despite Xi signing a “no limits” partnership agreement with Putin weeks before the invasion began.
In November, U.S. President Joe Biden and Xi pledged their willingness to mend relations that had grown sour due to tensions over Taiwan, trade and Beijing’s cozier relations with Russia amid the war.
Since then, however, diplomacy with Beijing has reached a boiling point following weeks of tensions that included an explosive February episode in which Biden ordered the U.S. military to shoot down a Chinese surveillance balloon after it drifted across the country for several days.
Earlier this week, Xi opened his third term by vowing to strengthen his military and take steps toward reunifying Taiwan with China after decades of discord with the United States over the sovereignty of the small island.
In February, visited Kyiv, Ukraine, and Warsaw, Poland, where he reasserted the U.S. commitment to stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”
While Biden has stopped short of sending military aircraft to Ukraine, the White House has announced a plan to send $2 billion in defense funds and equipment as part of a new security assistance package to mark the one-year anniversary of the invasion.
As part of the deal, the U.S. Defense Department has agreed to provide additional weapons systems, communications and counter-detection equipment, artillery and ammunitions, laser-guided rocket munitions and several other capabilities that will help Ukraine continue to hold ground in the war.
Biden also plans to ask Congress for $250 million in additional emergency energy assistance to help Ukraine maintain its power grid in the ongoing battle and another $300 million in emergency aid to bring energy independence to neighboring Moldova.