MALACKY, Slovakia (AP) — Poland and Czechia signed an agreement Saturday to protect Slovak airspace as Slovakia gives up its old Soviet-made MiG-29 jets.
The vow of protection by NATO allies comes as Russia’s war against Ukraine enters its seventh month. It is to last until Slovakia receives new F-16s from the United States, something expected to happen in 2024.
Under the agreement, Poland and Czechia are providing the necessary forces to quickly react in case of violations of Slovakia’s airspace. Slovakia has a border with Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February.
The agreement was signed at a Slovak airbase by defense ministers Jana Cernochova of Czechia, Mariusz Blaszczak of Poland and Jaroslav Nad of Slovakia.
“In the immediate proximity of our region where we live came a war, and all of us who are standing here today either have experience with fascism or communism, and we really value the freedom that we gained after 1989,” Cernochova said at a news conference alongside her Slovak and Polish counterparts.
Blaszczak said under the agreement, a pair of Polish F-16 fighter jets would begin patrolling Slovakia’s air space starting Sept. 1. He called the effort a way for the neighbors to “deter a possible aggressor.”
Slovakia has a fleet of 11 MiG-29 jets, and last month Nad said Slovakia may consider donating them to Ukraine under certain conditions.
Asked by a reporter Saturday about whether the jets might go to Ukraine, Nad said Slovakia was in talks with Ukraine and its European Union allies about how best to help. But he said he could not say what that help might look like yet.
Since the start of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, Ukraine has urged Western allies to provide it with warplanes to challenge Russia’s air superiority.
Poland, Czechia and Slovakia belong to a region that was under Moscow’s control during the decades of the Cold War. Many people here worry that if Russia isn’t stopped in Ukraine, Moscow’s renewed imperial ambitions could target them too.