The United States has made preparations to set up surface-to-air missiles in Slovakia, a NATO member, amid the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia over security issues in Eastern Europe.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced on Friday that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had spoken to his Slovakian counterpart Jaroslav Nad about the deployment of a Patriot air defense system in his country next week.
In the conversation, "The two leaders discussed the important role the defensive system would play in supporting Ukraine and saving lives in that country," Kirby said. Nad thanked Austin for ordering the "repositioning of a US Patriot system to Slovakia to help ensure deterrence and defense of NATO territory.”
The Pentagon spokesman added, “This deployment of Patriot capabilities to Slovakia aligns perfectly with our previous efforts to bolster NATO’s defensive capabilities," adding that, the US Patriot missile system also “complements the NATO multinational battlegroup in eastern Slovakia, which includes air defense elements from Germany and the Netherlands.”
Prior to the Pentagon announcement, Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger had revealed that his country would transfer its S-300 air defense system to neighboring Ukraine to fight Russian forces operating in the country.
Slovakia said previously that Ukraine had requested the transfer of the Russian-built long-range surface-to-air missile system to the country.
The move comes amid Russia's special military operation to demilitarize the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, predominantly populated by ethnic Russians.
The US and its European allies have dubbed the military operation a "land grab” scheme launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow, however, has insisted that it will end the operation if Kiev meets Russia’s demands, including abandoning the ambitious bid for membership in the NATO military alliance.