NATO member Slovakia has offered to transfer an air defense system to Ukraine so long as the US backfills its arsenal with new interceptors. The proposal is similar to one recently made by Polish officials, which would have provided Kiev with advanced fighter jets in exchange for American planes.
Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad’ floated the idea during a joint presser with his US counterpart on Thursday, saying his country is prepared to hand Ukraine its single Soviet-era S-300 defense system “immediately” provided it gets “a proper replacement.”
Asked whether the United States would back the plan or provide Slovakia with any US-made weapons, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin declined to comment, saying “I don’t have any announcements for you this afternoon.”
“These are things we will continue to work with all of our allies on, and certainly this is not just a US issue. It’s a NATO issue,” he added.
Though Slovakia inherited its S-300 battery following the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the system is now produced by Russian defense contractor MZiK.
Should Washington take up the suggestion, the Raytheon-made Patriot interceptor may be a likely candidate to replace Slovakia’s aging S-300. Austin formerly sat on Raytheon’s board of directors and the company remains highly influential in DC.
The plan appears to be gaining momentum among some European allies, with Germany offering to redeploy its own Patriot missiles to Slovakia on Wednesday. An unnamed US defense official also told reporters earlier this week that there are currently “active discussions” about how to backfill foreign arsenals, including with Bulgaria, Slovakia and others, but refused to get into specifics.
“There are other nations besides Slovakia and Bulgaria that we’re talking to about all manner of systems that might be of use to the Ukrainians. And I’m not going to get ahead of those discussions,” the official said.
The State Department, meanwhile, is now reportedly “working to identify which countries currently have the Soviet-made S-300 air defense systems” and “examining how they could be transferred to Ukraine.”
However, President Joe Biden grounded a similar proposal to transfer Polish MIG-29s to Ukraine and replace them with American fighters last week. While Secretary of State Antony Blinken initially said the plan got the “green light,” the administration quickly reversed course, saying the move would yield little tactical benefit and carried a high risk of escalation with Russia given Warsaw’s membership in the NATO bloc.
It remains to be seen how Moscow would respond if the West moved new air defense systems into Ukraine, though it previously warned of dire consequences for nations that attempt to intervene in the conflict. It is also unclear whether S-300s or similar systems could change realities on the battlefield or do much to contest Russia’s control of Ukrainian airspace.
The Washington Post reports that Kiev is now calling on European partners for Soviet-era SA-7 Grail systems – a shoulder-fired anti-craft weapon with a range of two miles – and the SA-8 Gecko surface-to-air missile platform. President Volodymyr Zelensky also continues to request a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine, a demand repeatedly rejected by the White House and Pentagon over fears it could spark another world war.
The placement of missile batteries in Eastern Europe has long been a key issue for Russia, which has raised concerns the systems could be equipped with nuclear-tipped munitions and used for a first strike on Moscow within minutes of launch.