April 29 (Reuters) - Poland is ready to guard Slovakia’s air space when its MiG-29 jets are grounded, defence ministers of the two NATO member countries said on Friday, opening the way for a possible delivery of the Soviet-made planes to Ukraine.
Slovakia, which operates 12 MiG-29 planes, said earlier this month that it would consider providing the jets to help Ukraine defend itself against invading Russian forces if alternative protection of its own air space could be arranged.
“I got a confirmation that Poland is ready to take care of Slovakia’s air space from the moment Slovakia decides to ground the Mig-29 jets,” Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad told a joint news conference with his Polish counterpart.
Nad said that legislative measures needed to be in place for such a move and that Slovakia was working on this matter.
Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Poland could use its experience of policing the airspace of the Baltic states.
“These duties will be carried out from the territory of Poland... As a rule, we will expand the scope of operation of the Polish duty group that uses F-16 aircraft,” Blaszczak said.
The ministers did not say when Poland’s mission in Slovak air space would start.
Slovakia is expecting a first delivery of U.S.-made F-16 jets in 2024, from a total batch of 18 it agreed to buy in 2018.
Russia has said the arrival of Western arms into Ukraine means it is now fighting a “proxy war” against NATO. President Vladimir Putin threatened unspecified retaliation this week, while his foreign minister warned of a threat of nuclear war.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine “a special military operation” to demilitarise and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and Western nations accuse Russia of starting an unprovoked war and committing war crimes, which Moscow rejects. (Reporting by Robert Muller Editing by Gareth Jones)
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