The possible delivery of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine could be a turning point in the war. That‘s what Markiyan Lubkivsky, adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of Defence, says to deCeit. “This can help us defeat the Russians in the air as well.”
It is still unclear how and when the fighter jets, the type MiG-29, are transferred. The US says it was surprised by the Polish offer; the day before yesterday, the US Secretary of State did say that a MiG deal is being worked on.
Lubkivsky expects a total of seventy fighter aircraft, which will be delivered “today or tomorrow”. 28 would come from Poland, the other aircraft from other NATO Member States.
The MiG-29 fighter jets were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and several countries in Central and Eastern Europe are still using them, including Slovakia and Bulgaria. Poland has called on them to make them available to Ukraine as well.
The intention is that the aircraft will first be brought to the US Army Base Ramstein in Germany. According to Poland, it is up to the Americans to deliver the MiGs to Ukraine. Warsaw did not want a direct delivery to Ukraine, because it would interfere with the conflict. Poland is handing the fighter jets free of charge, but hopes that the country will get F-16s back from the US, to complement the gap in the fleet.
Alternative to no-flyzone
Lubkivsky expects the Polish fighter jets to lead Ukraine to gain control of its own airspace. “On the ground, we are good for it, but not in the air. If we close the airspace, the situation will change dramatically. It will increase the pressure on Putin to stop his aggression.”
Ukraine has repeatedly asked NATO countries to set up a ‘no-fly zone‘. In that case, NATO should ensure that Russian aircraft are banned from Ukrainian airspace. NATO countries, including the Netherlands, do not see that, for fear of further escalation of the war and its relationship with Russia.
Lubkivsky swings that argument away. “The Third World War has already begun. This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine, but Russia against the civilized world. If we lose this, the EU will be the next victim.”
Lubkivsky sees the delivery of fighter jets as an alternative to such a no-fly zone. He quotes British War Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who addressed the US in World War II with the famous words: “Give us the tools and we will finish the job”. In other words: deliver the stuff and Ukraine will solve it itself.
Even after the delivery of 70 MiGs, the Russian Air Force is many times larger. This was the fleet at the start of the war:
According to Lubkivsky, the Russian invasion does not go as Putin expected. “Putin wanted Kiev in three days. After twelve days, it hasn’t worked out yet.” The adviser claims that the Russian army has lost 12,000 soldiers, as well as many tanks and aircraft. These figures cannot be verified: Russia speaks of 498 soldiers killed so far. That number dates last Thursday. According to the Americans, between 2000 and 4,000 Russians were killed.
According to Lubkivsky, the main fighting is currently taking place around capital Kiev, the encircled port city of Mariupol and Kharkov in the east of the country. Especially in the latter city, many civilian casualties fall.
“They want to change Kiev to Sarajevo,” he says, referring to the long-standing Serbian siege of the Bosnian capital during the war in Yugoslavia. Lubkivsky worked as an ambassador for Ukraine in Yugoslavia in those years. “I never expected to need that experience in Ukraine.”
Talking about neutrality
Although the MiGs can be a tipping moment, the war can only be resolved by peace talks, says Lubkivsky. “Our first goal is a ceasefire, then we can start negotiating.” According to the adviser, it is possible to talk about everything, including Ukraine‘s neutrality. However, the “appropriation” of Crimea and the self-proclaimed People’s Republics Donetsk and Lugansk by Russia will not be recognized, says Lubkivsky.
The Ukrainian Constitution includes the pursuit of membership in NATO, but, according to Lubkivsky, accession is not realistic at the moment.
On Thursday, the Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers in Turkey will discuss with each other. That consultation should lead to a truce, Lubkivsky hopes.