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Ukraine’s unanswered plea for MiG29s: consequence of NATO’s fear of Article 5

A Polish air force MiG-29 fighter jet, Sept. 21, 2021. Illustrative photo: US Air Force/Edgar Grimaldo.
Ukraine’s unanswered plea for MiG29s: consequence of NATO’s fear of Article 5
Edited by: Oksana Klindukhova

Despite Western media and politicians’ assumptions that Ukraine does not need fighter jets “all that much,” military expert Mychaylo Samus confirms the Ukrainian Air Forces, Defense Ministry, and Intelligence claim that fighter jets are necessary for Ukraine’s victory. Along with that, medium-range air defense missile systems, artillery weapons, and armored vehicles are the most urgent needs of Ukraine.

Military expert Mykhaylo Samus, who has 20 years of experience in security and defense analysis and consultancy and researches the fields of international relations, national resilience, and new generation warfare, explained to Euromaidan Press what weapons Ukraine needs to win the war against Russia. This is the first part of the interview.

Mykhaylo Samus is a director at The New Geopolitics Research Network and Deputy Director at the Army Research, Conversion, and Disarmament Center (CACDS). He served 12 years in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was the founder (2009) of the EU CACDS office in Prague (Czech Republic), and was responsible for the coordination of CACDS international activities, its regional sections, and projects with NATO and the EU. Worked as a journalist at Defense Express.

Medium-range air defense systems are needed to shoot cruise and ballistic missiles down

The key issue for Ukraine’s capability to fight Russia is medium-range air-defense missile systems. Ukraine already has a certain amount of short-range anti-aircraft systems like Stingers. It has recently received more advanced British Starstreaks, but they are still short-range systems with a range of up to 5 km. Fighting cruise missiles at such a short range is extremely difficult, and almost impossible with ballistic missiles.

Therefore, we need more powerful systems such as the Patriot or S-300 missile systems. If they work, for example, for 100 km and with radars for 300 or 500 km, then we detect the target in time with radars, prepare, and destroy the target when it is convenient for us. We also choose the place of destruction, so that the wreckage does not fall on residential buildings. In Kyiv, wreckage now often finds its way into civilian homes. This is because we are now detecting missiles in the immediate vicinity but not in advance.

Air Forces of Ukraine wrote about weapons that are needed on 1 April: “Patriot systems (USA) or cheaper and more mobile NASAMS systems (Norway) would be the most effective for protecting Ukrainian airspace. In addition, Ukraine could also use the Soviet systems S-300 and Buk-M1, which are also now effective in combating the enemy.”

weapons patriot
Patriot anti-missile system. Source:

Why Ukraine needs MiG-29 fighter jets

Aircraft are desperately needed. Our park is out of date, with planes that are 30 years old or older. We have good enterprises where we have been able to repair and modernize most aircraft in 8 years [since 2014]. But still, these are aircraft of the previous generation. There are opinions that unmanned aerial vehicles [such as Bayraktars] will play an increasing role, but we see that in real combat, manned aircraft remain extremely powerful. It is critical because Ukraine’s park is shrinking as a result of the ongoing fighting. We have already destroyed 130 Russian planes, but they have 500. We do not have that kind of power.

For some reason, the story of the Polish MiG-29 and SU-35 got bogged down in NATO’s internal discussions. The history of these MiG-29s is that after its unification, Germany handed MiG-29s over to Poland for 1 German mark. Poland itself is rearming for the F-16 and F-35. Therefore, they will not need these MiG-29s either. All that remains here is a political decision to be made by the United States and NATO.

It’s ridiculous for me to hear some US senators say that Ukraine doesn’t need MiG-29s. The Ukrainian military says they need it. After all, a Ukrainian pilot who understands his tasks and flies this plane knows exactly what he needs. He does not say “Give me the F-35,” but rather “Give me the Polish MiG-29,” which is already standing here at the Ukrainian border in Rzeszow. Just give it to us.

A retired American F-15C pilot who flew training missions with the Ukrainian air force, told in an interview that Ukrainian Air Forces

“need the MiG-29s from Poland. This was agreed to by NATO, but then pulled back at the last minute. Some of the reasons were ludicrous — that they wouldn’t be trained to operate them? I think the [Ukrainian air force] pilots would know what they need better than our Pentagon analysts sitting at desks who have never stepped foot in Ukraine, nor seen inside the cockpit of a Fulcrum.”

On 1 April, the Armed Forces of Ukraine debunked a recent myth that Ukraine’s success on the ground is enough to win, stressing that the dominance in the air is a decisive factor in this war:

Airspace control has played a vital role in all wars since World War II. Dominance in the air means quick and accurate strikes on enemy troops, logistics centers, and other vital facilities, as well as extremely powerful fire support of its ground and naval forces.”

These answers are, in fact, a refusal to say honestly that we fear Russia will attack Poland if we give fighter jets, which would trigger Article 5 of NATO, and we would have to react.

Western European countries are terrified of the possibility of activating NATO’s 5th Article but do not want to say it openly. Instead, they say that the MiG-29 is not that efficient of an aircraft or that you will need to study Patriot systems for a long time.

In fact, their interface is fairly simple for our specialists, who also understand air defense systems.

“According to Juice’s [Ukrainian pilot] account, Ukraine’s ranks of battle-tested and experienced fighter pilots — some of whom have already gained exposure to US jets during training exercises — could be trained to operate US airframes within months and be “effective warriors.” He also said that Ukrainian pilots could learn to fly US fighter jets in less time than it would take to upgrade Ukraine’s fleet of aging fighters to use more advanced missiles,” a Ukrainian pilot said in an interview.

Europe says they don’t have Patriot specialists. If they had sent Patriots in November, there would already be an abundance of them. If they put it off all the time, the specialists will never show up. By the way, the British Starstreaks were transferred to Ukraine in March 2022, and literally a week later the Ukrainians learned how to operate them. Now the system is in service in Ukraine. It is the same with the Javelins.

Following the cancellation of a proposed transfer of MiG-29s from Poland to Ukraine, several Western officials and media began to claim that MiG-29s would not help Ukraine.

For instance, a commentator from the Eurasian Times argues that the only reason for Poland to transfer the MiG-29s was to upgrade its own capabilities by receiving more modern F-16s from the US. At the same time, the article claims that MiG-29s would “not significantly improve the air defense capabilities of the Ukrainian Air Force,” stating it would be better for the US to transfer “man-portable” Stingers. This completely contradicts official statements by the Ukrainian Air Forces, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, as well as military experts, and even several retired US Generals.

Yet more striking are the article’s arguments that “MiG-29s can’t match advanced Russian jets” and that “the plane will not change the balance of airpower in the Russia-Ukraine war.” Did the author want to say that MiG-29s are not enough and that Ukraine should be provided with F-16? That’s unlikely. The 28 planes that Poland wanted to send are a lot, taking into account that Ukrainian air forces are using a pool of about 50 planes. On the contrary, Ukrainian air forces, which recognize that Russian aircraft outnumber them significantly but have still effectively fought back with far fewer capabilities, claim that MiG-29s are the easiest way to help the Ukrainian air forces.

A commentator for Foreign Affairs makes similar claims, stating that MiG-29s would not make a big difference. Yet he recognizes that Russian aircraft are flying nearly 200 missions per day as compared to 10 missions per day of the Ukrainian aircraft. It goes on to sophisticate on “operational use arguments,” asking more questions than providing answers.

Retired US Aircraft General Richard E. Hawley commented on such assumptions in the media:

The people who say that the Polish MiG-29s would be of little value must either have forgotten what they learned as fighter wing commanders or they never had that privilege.”

Thinking about the reasons for the US not sending fighter jets to Ukraine, the retired general suggests that

“It seems the Biden administration thinks the Ukrainians might use Poland’s MiG-29s to attack Russia rather than defend its own airspace or attack Russian ground forces in Ukraine.”

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board writes that Biden has personally vetoed MiG-29 delivery. There was no logic in it, WSJ wrote, except for fear of an escalation.

The logic seems to be that sending lethal anti-aircraft and antitank weapons won’t provoke the Russians, but 28 fixed-wing aircraft would. That distinction is hard to parse, especially when the Pentagon is also saying that the Ukrainians don’t need the jets because their other weapons are more effective. So sending less-lethal aircraft will lead to World War III, but not arms that are truly deadly? Instead of deterring Mr. Putin, Mr. Biden is allowing the Russians to deter the US”

In the interview published on 27 March a Ukrainian Air Forces pilot said:

I can’t estimate how many more days, how many more weeks we can hold the line in the air,” Juice said. “Surface-to-air missile systems and new jets are our priorities, to shore up our losses and maintain our air policing and push away Russian jets. We can break it up into two stages. The first, easiest, and the quickest stage is for Ukraine to receive old Soviet stuff, like MiG-29s, S-300s, Buks, [9K33 Osa surface-to-air missile systems], and other systems.

Mobile Armed Forces of Ukraine: the need for anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles

The other weapons Ukraine needs are anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles, including armored SUVs.

Unlike Russia, which fights according to Soviet doctrines, the Ukrainian army is very mobile, with mobile defense and offensive capabilities. Russians operate in large units, very inefficiently. Ukraine is fighting according to the doctrine of small groups that require light armored vehicles. Hummers could be very helpful. Now Ukrainian citizens are helping to crowdfund for SUVs and send them to soldiers.

Our front stretches for 1800 km. If Ukraine is placed on the map of Western Europe, it will take up the area of several countries. So we need armored vehicles. President Zelenskyy is asking for tanks. Some, such as the T-72, could be transferred to Ukraine from the Warsaw Pact countries. They can be replaced with Western-made tanks, or after the war, Ukraine can make its own new tanks and give them back. In any case, Ukraine is now at the forefront.

An Australian Bushmaster PMV Armoured Vehicle is loaded onto a cargo plane at the Amberley Air Base in Ipswich, Australia on April 8. Photographer: Dan Peled

The same applies to Soviet ammunition. Ukraine did not have it in production because we were already going to switch to NATO calibers. Again, our hope is with the countries of the former Warsaw Pact. The Czech Republic and Poland are helping us with this; I think other countries can, too.

After the Russian missile strike at Kramatorsk railway station with Tochka-U on 8 April, Mykhaylo Samus wrote on Facebook that HIMARS, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, is urgently needed from the US to tackle Tochka-U, which has a large radius of deviation. The Russian military has a lot of these missiles and will likely use them in their offensive in Donbas.
The consequences of the Russian missile strike on Kramatorsk railway station where thousands of people were waiting to take evacuation trains. It was hit with Tochka-U. Several dozens of people were killed. Source: The Presidential Office 

Of course, we also have some problems with bulletproof vests and small arms. Our armed forces’ rapid growth over one month requires us to quickly stock up on reliable equipment that meets standards.

But I assure you that no European country would be able to achieve such a level of mobilization as we have achieved in one month.

Offensive or defensive weapons, and what Ukraine needs

I cannot say that there exist exclusively offensive or exclusively defensive weapons. For example, the air weapons system is considered an exclusively defensive weapon. But it affects the situation on the battlefield and such weapons can completely close the sky for the enemy. Therefore, defensive weapons ensure offensive action.

All armies in the world conduct defensive, offensive, counter-offensive, and other operations and use a variety of weapons. If we are in defense, a Javelin or a machine gun is a defensive weapon; if we are conducting offensive operations, it is an offensive weapon. In general, we need weapons to perform various tasks in Armed Forces of Ukraine, and they know what they need.

When we talk about anti-ship missiles, for example, it is primarily about defense, specifically the protection of the Odesa coast. But it is also possible to support our offensive operations from the shore or from ships because the Black and Azov seas are very small.

The Head of the Defence Intelligence of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov told in an interview on 27 March:

We will liberate the whole of Ukraine and also the temporarily occupied territories.” But not without more help, he said: “First of all, we need the armament support. We need serious armaments, not small arms. We need combat aviation, not the fourth generation. We need very serious air defense systems and anti-missile systems and artillery systems of 155 mm or larger. That is our main request. If you hold on to small arms and light weapons, we can’t solve any problems in this war.”

A priority list of weapons Ukraine needs that the Ministry of Defense is asking the West for to finish the war:

  • air defense systems & combat aircraft
  • long-range artillery missile complexes,
  • MLRS & heavy artillery tanks and armored vehicles
  • anti-ship missiles
  • reconnaissance and strike drones

The matter of sending weapons to Ukraine lies in political decisions, not money

The problem is not money. Nobody talks about the price of a MiG-29. Ukraine is ready to pay for weapons however much is needed. The problem lies in politics, in political decisions. The problem is not that we can’t buy something, but that the United States doesn’t supply Patriots or planes. It is because of the decision of the Biden administration. There is nothing you can do here.

Before the full-scale war, Lithuania wanted to supply Ukraine with a system to combat drones. Germany was blocking it. Ukraine tried to buy the system officially and paid money through NATO’s procurement system. In Ukraine, the law says that as a rule (although it is not strictly binding) we should use open procurement systems, such as through NATO, to fight corruption. We did so, but it turned out that Germany began to block it for political reasons. Moreover, we wanted to buy electronic systems, i.e. radars that have nothing to do with gunpowder. Obviously, the blockage was at Russia’s request, because then it would increase Ukraine’s ability to fight Russian drones.

The story shows that it’s not about money at all. This is a war, we can take out any loans, any money, and after the war, we will deal with that. The question is in the availability of the weapons themselves. And the non-supply of weapons to Ukraine is purely a political issue. Like it is in Hungary: this country does not even allow planes flying over its territory to carry weapons to Ukraine. When a plane with Bayraktars flies from Türkiye to Ukraine, they fly to Poland across half of Europe. If the issue could have been solved with money, we would have solved it a long time ago. This is a political issue.

What Russia has

Russia is not yet in agony, as is claimed by many. The operation failed from the first days when it was based on false intelligence. But it is true that Russia has 10,000 tanks, more than 15,000 armored vehicles, hundreds of planes, and hundreds of helicopters. Of course, the further the destruction of Russian equipment, the worse the quality of subsequent units. I think they still have about 100 new armored vehicles left in their reserves, and afterward, only units from storage bases will be left. Parts of this equipment were stolen, it was not cared for properly, so it is actually in a catastrophic state.

On 1 April, the Air Forces of Ukraine wrote that, in fact, Russian aerospace forces are significantly superior to Ukraine’s and have access to more modern radars and missile technologies. The Air Force of Ukraine cannot completely cover the skies over Ukraine. Russian aerospace forces significantly overpower Ukrainian aircraft in number and advanced technologies. Due to this imbalance, the Air Force of Ukraine, from the very beginning of the war, urgently asked Western partners to provide more modern fighters and air defense equipment.

It is important for us now to gradually destroy the Russian equipment that is in service. The Russians will have less and less equipment, and it is important for Ukraine to receive more and more weapons from the West to maintain the trend and change the situation at the front. Then the negotiations will be of a completely different kind. Because the situation is still shaky, they hope to change the situation in their favor.

The situation is still difficult in Donbas, particularly in Mariupol and Izium. There are problems in the south, where they cut us off from the Sea of ​​Azov. And Kyiv is not forgotten either, one should not believe what they say. I am sure that Putin did not abandon any of the tasks he set out before the operation. Putin will soon have a parade on May 9, he needs to say something and show it, but so far there is nothing.

April will be critical, as Russia will try to do its best, so massive aid from the West will be crucial.

Edited by: Oksana Klindukhova
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