WASHINGTON and WARSAW — The German defense ministry on Thursday approved the re-export of five Polish MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine, deciding the matter on the same day that Warsaw asked for permission.
Defense officials in Berlin, eager to shed Germany’s reputation as sluggish on Ukraine, trumpeted the speedy approval. “The request only arrived today,” Defense Minister Boris Pistorius was quoted as saying in a statement, proclaiming that “Germany can be relied upon.”
The Soviet-era warplanes originally belonged to the former East German military. The German government gave them to Poland in 2003 with the caveat that subsequent transfers to other countries need Berlin’s permission.
Poland has given eight MiG-29s to Ukraine, with Slovakia vowing to deliver a further 13 jets, of which four were supplied last month. European and U.S. officials believe the planes are more useful to Kyiv than Western aircraft because Ukrainian forces have experience in flying and maintaining them.
Still, some NATO countries have begun training Ukrainian pilots on more modern planes, like F-16s, with an eye toward creating a post-war Ukrainian air force.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Germany was seen by some allies, especially those in Eastern Europe formerly under Soviet rule, as too skittish on supporting Ukraine with military aid. Berlin has since begun to be more forward-leaning in its weapons donations, which include modern Leopard 2 tanks that the country’s own armed forces also use.
Polish daily Rzeczpospolita quoted Jacek Siewiera, the head of the Polish National Security Bureau, as saying that Poland is still operating “about 12″ of the MiG-29s it secured from Germany. Due to this, in the short-term, the transfer could weaken the Polish military’s air combat capabilities.
Poland’s forthcoming MiG-29 donation will be made while its air force is awaiting the delivery of the first South Korean FA-50 light attack aircraft. Last September, Warsaw signed two deals to purchase 48 such jets to replace its Soviet-made aircraft. The first 12 light attack aircraft are to be supplied this year, and a further 36 jets between 2025 and 2028. In addition to this, the Polish Air Force will also obtain 32 F-35 Lightning II fighters, with deliveries of the fifth-generation jets scheduled to begin in 2024.
Meanwhile, Bulgarian Defense Minister Dimitar Stoyanov denied on April 12 that his country had agreed to donate its MiG-29s to Ukraine while admitting that the Bulgarian government discussed with allies swapping the country’s Soviet-made weapons with western gear, suggesting that Sofia could be interested in exchanging the MiG-29s for NATO-made aircraft.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.
Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.