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Slovakia's defence official claims ex-government broke the law by donating MiGs to Ukraine

Slovak Air Force MiG-29s take part in an airshow in Malacky, Slovakia.
Slovak Air Force MiG-29s take part in an airshow in Malacky, Slovakia. Copyright AP Photo/Petr David Josek
Copyright AP Photo/Petr David Josek
By Andrew Naughtie
Published on Updated
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The Ukrainian military is in dire need of extra air power as Russia bombards its territory with artillery, missiles and drones.

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The sitting government of Slovakia is busy filing criminal complaints against its predecessors in office over their donation of fighter jets to Ukraine, claiming that the transfers went ahead illegally.

As reported by Slovakian media, State Secretary of the Defence Ministry Igor Melicher has filed a total of four official reports against former Prime Minister Eduard Heger and his Minister of Defence Jaroslav Naď.

"These two gentlemen have been able to disarm Slovakia better than any enemy would,” Melicher said at a press conference on Friday.

"I am convinced that Jaroslav Naď betrayed Slovakia, his homeland."

The dispute centres on 13 MiG29 fighter jets donated to the Ukrainian war effort before Slovakia’s last election, which yielded a coalition government led by the pro-Russian populist Robert Fico.

Slovak police rejected an earlier criminal complaint about the donated MiGs, but Melicher remains convinced that handing over the jets constitutes a crime.

'The proof is in the paperwork'

The current government claims that the previous leadership did not have a constitutional mandate to send the jets to Ukraine because it had been defeated in a no-confidence motion before the decision to send the jets was made.

The transfer went ahead without parliamentary approval, but the government at the time claimed that legal advice it commissioned had said it did not need to go through parliament for purely military purposes.

Fico's government disputes whether this analysis was even commissioned, but former officials say multiple departments approved it. Melicher, however, believes that a lack of countersignature on documents he claims to have retrieved while at the ministry is the smoking gun he needs.

"The criminal report will be supplemented with many facts and documentary evidence that we found at the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Economy, as well as other central state administration bodies," Melicher said.

Slovakia's Robert Fico meets Vladimir Putin in 2016.
Slovakia's Robert Fico meets Vladimir Putin in 2016.Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

The fracas comes in a climate of severe political tension in Slovakia. Fico himself has recovered from an assassination attempt in May that shocked the nation, but he remains an extremely divisive figure.

Having run for office pledging to curb Slovakia’s support for the Ukrainian war effort, he put together a governing coalition that includes the pro-Russian Slovak National Party.

Among the various contentious policies his government has pursued is an aggressive crackdown on independent media, sparking major protests from citizens concerned at a creeping Russian-style restriction of anti-government speech and political opposition.

The real jet set

With Ukraine desperate to combat Russia’s artillery and missile capacity, numerous supportive countries have offered it both modern war planes and the know-how to operate them.

The most important contribution comes in the form of US-manufactured F-16s donated by several countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.

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Ukrainian pilots and ground crews have spent months training to operate and maintain the planes, which have a significantly longer range than the Soviet-era aircraft Ukraine has relied on but are also considerably more complicated.

It is hoped that the F-16 will enable the Ukrainians to destroy Russian planes currently used to launch so-called glide bombs, devastating long-range weapons that can be launched at civilian areas from inside Russian airspace.

With the F-16 training effort now the main focus of the effort to enhance Ukraine’s air power, other initiatives are on the backburner.

A planned delivery of Sweden’s Gripen jet, which only requires a small ground support team and was specifically designed to attack Russian surface-to-air missile systems, has been paused to make way for the F-16s, which are expected to begin service in Ukraine very soon.

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Meanwhile, MiG fighter jets like the Slovak ones remain a much-coveted addition to the Ukrainian air force arsenal due to their compatibility with the Soviet-style weapons system the country operated for decades and their suitability to the existing runways.

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