Slovakia announced the delivery of fighter jets to Ukraine as Kyiv said its troops would soon counterattack against the Kremlin’s invasion force, and a senior Moscow official warned that any bid to arrest Russian president Vladimir Putin would be viewed as a “declaration of war”.
“The first four MiG-29 fighter jets were safely handed over to the Ukrainian armed forces… The transfer was carried out by Ukrainian pilots in co-ordination with the Slovak air force,” Slovakia’s defence minister Jaroslav Nad said on Thursday.
Slovakia intends to deliver nine more of the Soviet-era warplanes in the coming weeks, some of which are not operational and will be used for spare parts. Poland also plans to send four MiG-29s to Ukraine shortly and more when repairs have been completed.
“Slovakia stands on the right side, and with this act we as a country have written ourselves with capital letters into modern world history, which speaks of timely assistance, genuine solidarity and the greatness of the nation,” Mr Nad said.
“We are acting correctly, because it is Russia that attacked Ukraine, it is Russia that is on Ukrainian territory and when Russia withdraws its troops the war will end immediately.”
The Kremlin says its forces will destroy all arms given to Ukraine and insists that nothing can stop Russia winning a war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
“Ukraine is basically part of Russia. Let’s be honest, it’s part of Russia,” Dmitry Medvedev, a former president of Russia who is now deputy chairman of its security council, said in an interview published by Russian state media.
“But because of geopolitical reasons and the history of what happened, for a long time we put up with the fact that we live in different ‘apartments’. We were forced to deal with this, with these invented borders,” he added, claiming that most of Ukraine’s territory and people were always part of “the Russian empire … of Great Russia”.
Mr Medvedev repeated the Kremlin’s claims that it invaded Ukraine to prevent the West using the country to dismember Russia, and he denounced the International Criminal Court for issuing an arrest warrant for Mr Putin on suspicion of war crimes.
“Let’s imagine … that the current head of a nuclear state arrived on the territory of, say, Germany and was arrested. What is this? A declaration of war on the Russian Federation,” Mr Medvedev said. “And in that case, everything we have will fly to the Bundestag, to the office of the chancellor and so on.”
Germany’s justice minister has said it would comply with an arrest warrant for Mr Putin, and on Thursday the country’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said: “Nobody is above the United Nations Charter … nobody can go unpunished for committing war crimes”.
In Hungary, however, the chief of staff of prime minister Viktor Orban – arguably the EU leader with the closest ties to Russia and the worst relationship with Ukraine – said Mr Putin would not be detained if he entered the country because it would contravene Hungarian law.
Kyiv says its troops are still fighting Russian forces for control of the ruined city of Bakhmut and other towns in eastern Ukraine, and aiming to inflict maximum damage on their adversaries before launching a counteroffensive.
“The aggressor has not given up hope of taking Bakhmut at any cost, despite its losses in manpower and equipment,” said Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukrainian ground forces.
He said Russia’s Wagner mercenary group that is fighting around Bakhmut was now “losing significant strength and running out of steam”.
“Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupyansk,” he added, listing cities where Ukrainian troops drove back Russian forces last year.