Sweden’s Defence Minister has defended his country’s decision not to send fighter jets to Ukraine, insisting that the aircraft are integral to Sweden’s own security.

Speaking at the London Defence conference, Pål Jonson said that giving up the Gripen fighter jets that Ukraine has asked for would have “very severe operational effects” on Sweden’s capacity to defend itself.

“When I look at Russian capabilities, I see that their ground forces are severely weakened and tied up in Ukraine,” he said. “But when I look at their naval and aerial assets, they’re almost completely intact in [Sweden’s] area.”

“So it’s very hard for us to give up the 60 Gripen fighters that we have, as they’re operating 24/7 right now to maintain our territorial integrity, and Russia is still active in our region.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pushing for the aircraft, considered by analysts at RUSI to be one of the most suitable models of advanced jet to help Ukraine win the war. 

Professor Justin Bronk, of RUSI, said the Gripen had been “explicitly designed” to counter Russian surface-to-air missiles and fast jets by “flying very low and having an internal electronic warfare suite”, adding that the model was easy to maintain and operate.

Jonson said he welcomed the progress made in the “jet coalition” to source aircraft for Ukraine, including the contribution of MiG-29s from Poland and Slovakia.

Pressed by Iain Martin, director of the LDC, on the conditions that would have to be met for Sweden to change its mind on Gripen jets, Jonson refused to be drawn.

“I don’t exclude any possibility, but I have no immediate plans right now to send Gripens to Ukraine, because right now it’s in the ‘too hard to do’ box.” 

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