Slovakia says it would give Ukraine its air defense systems if it gets ‘proper replacement’
Slovakia’s defense minister on Thursday said the country would “immediately” provide its S-300 air defense system to Ukraine if it’s guaranteed a “proper replacement” in the near term.
Jaroslav Nad’ said Slovakia is in discussions with the United States and other allies on the possibility of deploying its S-300s to Ukraine to help the embattled country in its fight against invading Russian forces. But the agreement hinges on Bratislava receiving a stand-in system for its air defenses.
“We’re willing to do so immediately when we have a proper replacement,” Nad’ said a press conference alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“The only strategic air defense system that we have in Slovakia is [the] S-300 system. So what would happen immediately when we decide to give it to Ukrainians is that we actually create a gap, a security gap in NATO.”
He added: “Should there be [a] situation that we have a proper replacement or that we have a capability guaranteed for a certain period of time, then we will be willing to discuss the future of S-300.”
The S-300 surface-to-air missile system is a Soviet-era defense system possessed by NATO allies Slovakia, Greece and Bulgaria that could help against Russian airstrikes in Ukraine, of which there have been more than 1,000 since the attack began on Feb. 24.
Asked whether the U.S. would be willing to provide Slovakia with an air defense replacement such as the U.S.-made Patriot, Austin said he did not have any announcements to make.
“These are things that we will continue to work with all of our allies on,” Austin said.
The Biden administration is working to get more air defense systems to Ukraine following pressure from Congress and new pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to help Kyiv obtain air defenses and fighter jets to curtail bombings from Kremlin forces.
U.S. officials have rejected several asks, however, over fears doing so would escalate the conflict. The requests shot down include a plan to help Poland transfer its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine and a NATO-policed no-fly zone imposed over Ukraine’s skies.
On Thursday, Austin again stressed that Washington would not back a no-fly zone as it “means that you’re in a conflict with Russia.”
“In order to control the skies, you have to shut down the air defenses there on the ground. And some of those air defense systems are in Russia and so, again, there’s no easy or simple way to do this. There’s no such thing as a no-fly zone light. A no-fly zone means that you’re in a conflict with Russia. So from a U.S. perspective, we’re, again, our position remains that we’re not going to do that,” he said.