Sun, 26 Mar 2023

Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Friday that his government has agreed to deliver 13 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. The announcement came closely after Poland said Thursday that it would donate a dozen fighter jets to the embattled country. Russia dismissed the announcements, saying that the planes would not make a difference in the overall course of the conflict. Read our live blog to see how the day's events unfold. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

11:25am: Russia accuses Ukraine of attacking the Orthodox Church

The Kremlin said on Friday that Ukraine was "illegally attacking" the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) - which until recently accepted the authority of the patriarch of Moscow - adding that this confirmed the need for its "special military operation".

Ukrainian officials last week ordered the UOC to leave the monastery complex in Kyiv where it is based, drawing fierce condemnatation from Moscow.

11:13am: Russia says fighter jets would make no difference to war

The Kremlin said on Friday, in response to eastern European countries transferring fighter planes to Ukraine, that the planes would be destroyed and would not make a difference to the course of the conflict.

10:28am: Slovakia to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine

The Slovak government approved sending MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said on Friday, stepping up its military assistance to Kyiv.

The fleet of 11 MiG-29 planes was retired last summer, and most of them are not in operational condition.

10:00am: Russian defence ministry decorates pilots for downing US drone

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu presented pilots with awards for preventing a US drone from entering the area of Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported on Friday.

The drone crashed into the Black Sea on Tuesday after being intercepted by Russian jets.

9:15am: Xi Jinping to visit Russia early next week

Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Russia next week, Beijing's foreign ministry said Friday, his first trip to Moscow in nearly four years.

"At the invitation of President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, President Xi Jinping will pay a state visit to Russia from March 20 to 22," the ministry said in a statement.

Xi last visited Russia in 2019, though Putin attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing last year and the two leaders also met at a regional security gathering in Uzbekistan in September.

The pair will talk about "strategic cooperation", according to a near-simultaneous statement from the Kremlin.

The two leaders "will discuss deepening the exhaustive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China", including on the international stage, the Kremlin said, adding, "important bilateral documents will be signed".

6:00am: Poland to be first NATO member to give Ukraine fighter jets

Poland said Thursday it plans to give Ukraine about a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets, which would make it the first NATO member to fulfill Kyiv's increasingly urgent requests for warplanes to defend itself against the Russian invasion.

Warsaw will hand over four of the Soviet-made warplanes "within the next few days," President Andrzej Duda said, and the rest needed servicing but would be supplied later. The Polish word he used to describe the total number can mean between 11 and 19.

"They are in the last years of their functioning, but they are in good working condition," Duda said.

He did not say whether other countries would follow suit, although Slovakia has said it would send its own disused MiGs to Ukraine. Poland also was the first NATO nation to provide Ukraine with German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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