Ukraine, Russia | Is it risky for NATO to provide fighters? The experts answer this

NATO countries have already contributed massively with arms support to Ukraine with, for example, ammunition, anti-aircraft guns, anti-aircraft defenses, missiles, armored vehicles and tanks.

For a long time, Ukraine has begged the West to get fighter jets to strengthen its defense capabilities in the war against Russia. Now comes the long-awaited help.

On Thursday, Poland announced that it will send four of its old Soviet fighter jets (MiG-29) to Ukraine in the “coming days”, with more planes to follow.

Poland thus becomes the first NATO country to send fighter jets to Ukraine. Slovakia announced on Friday morning that it too will send 13 MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine.

Earlier in the war, it was widely believed that it was almost unthinkable for NATO countries to donate fighter jets to Ukraine. Fighter jet donations were considered too risky and potentially escalating.

NATO countries were also anxious about being drawn into the conflict if their donated fighter jets were used by Ukraine to hit targets inside Russia.

Now the wind has turned, and more and more countries are considering giving Ukraine fighter jets.

Nettavisen has asked a bunch of military experts and security policy researchers whether the decision to send fighter jets to Ukraine will increase the danger of an escalation of the war.

– Regarding the risk of escalation of the war, how risky is it to send fighter jets to Ukraine?

Karsten Friis, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Policy (Nupi):

– In short, this changes nothing in terms of Russia’s ability or willingness to escalate. The escalation that is being talked about is, in that case, nuclear, and it is only theoretical. Sending MiGs to Ukraine is no more escalating than sending tanks or anything else. Russia has already thrown away the coal they have on the war, says Friis to Nettavisen.

– I think several NATO countries will probably send their old Soviet MiG aircraft. It is much easier for the Ukrainian air force to integrate MiG aircraft that they have themselves, than to use the more modern fighters that the West has, says Friis.

Western fighters, such as F16s, require extensive training, ground support and new runways to be operational in Ukrainian airspace.

Sverre Diesen, former chief of defense and chief researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Institute (FFI):

– To put it that way, the problem is that Russia has nothing to escalate with. What would it be? What would that escalation consist of? The Russians are up to their necks in the war they already have, and the nuclear escalation is still not credible, says Diesen to Nettavisen.

– Does that mean that the West and Nato can just splurge on fighter jets to Ukraine?

– In my opinion, yes. And now we have in effect decided that we cannot let the Russians win. If the Russians are not willing to negotiate on any basis, then there is only one option left, and that is to make sure they lose. Then it would be completely illogical not to give fighter jets to Ukraine. It’s about being consistent with your own goals, says Diesen.

Palle Ydstebø, lieutenant colonel and head teacher at the Norwegian Defense Academy:

– I don’t see it as risky at all. Russia does not have the capacity to escalate the war, not conventionally at least – neither in Ukraine nor beyond Ukraine. The ground forces and large parts of the air force are engaged in Ukraine. So they do not have the capacity to go to war in any other way, says Ydstebø to Nettavisen.

– When it comes to escalation in the war in Ukraine, we will not get anything other than this winter offensive with escalation against Bakhmut and various rocket and missile attacks against Ukrainian cities, he says.

Geir Hågen Karlsen, lieutenant colonel and head teacher at the Defense Staff School:

– I think the risk of escalation is very small. Russia is struggling more than enough to deal with Ukraine. I see it as very unlikely that Russia will try to do something against NATO in addition. It will only make the problems worse for them, says Karlsen to Nettavisen.

Karlsen does not believe that Polish supplies of fighter aircraft will have any major impact on the course of the war.

– The number is so small that it will not tip the war in any direction. But it is clear that air support is useful if the Ukrainians are to go on the offensive and liberate occupied areas with tanks and armored personnel carriers when the snow melts and the ground dries until spring, he says.

Tomas Colin Archer, former Inspector General of the Air Force:

– There is always a danger of escalation, but this already started with the tanks. When the decision was made to send tanks to Ukraine, it was natural to follow up with fighter jets to gain air supremacy where the tanks will operate. So the decision was actually made already then, says Archer to Nettavisen.

– It is clear that this is an escalation of the war. But can we keep this between the Ukrainians and the Russians? That is the big question. The more advanced weapons Ukraine gets, the greater the danger of escalation. But what will Russia escalate with? Should they attack Poland or another NATO country? I think it will take a lot for Russia to go so far as to really escalate beyond Ukraine, he says.

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