Slovakia offers Ukraine air defense system; Austin is careful
Slovakia’s defense minister said Thursday his country was ready to send Ukraine long-range S-300 air defense systems if NATO provided a replacement – only for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to leave him alone, saying he had nothing to announce.
Jaroslav Nad said Slovakia is in talks with the US, Ukraine and NATO “about the possibility of deploying, sending or giving the S-300 to Ukraine”.
“We are ready to do this immediately if we have a suitable replacement,” Nad told reporters at a joint press conference with Austin in Bratislava.
“The only strategic air defense system we have in Slovakia is the S-300 system,” he said, referring to the Soviet-era surface-to-air system that would give the Ukrainian military the ability to launch Russian ballistic missiles attack and high-flying fighter planes.
But Nad said he was concerned about leaving a defense gap in his country, a NATO member that borders Ukraine, once the advanced weapons system is delivered.
“I am Minister of Defense of Slovakia, my first responsibility is to do everything I am able to ensure the defense and security of our people and territory,” he said
But Austin was noncommittal about providing a replacement.
“I have no announcements for you this afternoon,” he said. “These are things we will continue to work on with all our allies. And certainly this is not just a US matter, it is a NATO matter.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday asked the US to either establish a no-fly zone over his country, a situation President Biden said would escalate the war, or provide missile systems like the S-300 to protect his people from attack to protect from Russian planes and long-range missiles.
“You know what kind of defense systems we need, S-300 and other similar systems,” he told members of Congress before bringing up the stalled transfer of more than two dozen Polish MiG-29 fighter jets.
“You know how much on the battlefield depends on the ability to use aircraft … to protect our people, our freedom, our country, aircraft that can help Ukraine and Europe,” he said. “And you know they exist and you have them, but they are on earth, not in Ukraine – in Ukrainian heaven. They are not defending our people.”
Poland offered to relocate 28 of the Soviet-era jets to the US air base in Ramstein, Germany, but the Biden government turned down the proposal over concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin would view the planes as a provocation and the Escalate war and possibly trigger World War III.
Earlier in the press, Austin said Ukrainian forces were able to prevent Russia from establishing air superiority through the air defense systems that the US and NATO allies have already supplied.
“Our goal was to continue to reinforce things that have worked for the Ukrainian armed forces,” he said. “That’s why we’re talking to a number of our allies and partners to ensure we get as many capabilities as possible to continue providing assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”
At a Defense Department briefing on Wednesday, a senior official downplayed the possibility of sending an S-300 system to Ukraine.
“We are talking to allies and partners about providing Ukrainians with some systems that we know they know how to use, are already trained and equipped to use, and that they use with success. And for that, we wouldn’t necessarily be the best donor ourselves,” the official said.
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On Wednesday, Biden announced an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, which includes a variety of air defense systems, drones, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, heavy armor and ammunition — but no S-300s, which can hit larger targets range or higher altitude than the Stingers.
With mail wires