Poland offers fighter jets to the United States to help Ukraine
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland announced on Tuesday that it would donate all of its MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States, potentially offering an arrangement that would allow the fighter jets to be passed to the Ukrainian military as she confronts the invading Russian forces.
The United States did not immediately confirm the deal, although Western countries discussed possible ways to respond to Ukraine’s call for warplanes. Such a move would boost Ukraine’s morale as Russian attacks on its cities add to the humanitarian catastrophe. But it also increases the risks of a wider war.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment on Poland’s announcement, and a senior US diplomat expressed surprise.
“To my knowledge, we were not consulted beforehand about the fact that they were planning to get these planes to us,” said US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, who told lawmakers she heard about the proposal while driving to testify about Ukraine. crisis before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“I can’t wait…to go back to my office and see how we respond to their proposal, get the planes to us,” Nuland said.
Ukraine pleaded for more warplanes, and Washington considered a proposal that Poland would supply Ukraine with Soviet-era fighters and in turn receive American F-16s to make up for their loss. Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly Soviet-era combat aircraft.
The Polish Foreign Ministry announced in a statement that Poland is ready to immediately deliver the jets to the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany free of charge.
“At the same time, Poland is asking the United States to provide us with second-hand aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” he said.
The Polish government has also called on other owners of MIG-29 jets to follow suit.
Bulgaria and Slovakia, former Soviet bloc members of NATO, also still have Soviet-made fighter jets in their air forces.
Handing over the 28 Soviet-made MiG-29s to Poland would signal Western willingness to do more to deter Russia. Militarily, this is unlikely to change the situation. The number of planes is relatively small. The MiG-29s are also inferior to more sophisticated Russian aircraft and could be easy prey for Russian pilots and Russian missiles.
Russia has warned that supporting the Ukrainian air force would be seen in Moscow as participating in the conflict and would open up suppliers to possible retaliation.
It would also weaken Poland’s own air force at a time of heightened danger in Eastern Europe.
A transfer of the MiGs to Ukraine is fraught with pitfalls as neither NATO nor the European Union want to be seen as directly involved in the transaction, which will significantly increase the already extreme tensions with Russia. The United States does not intend to directly transfer the planes to Ukraine.
In order to maintain the pretense that NATO and the EU are not direct participants in the Ukrainian conflict, US and Polish officials have considered various options. One begins with the “donation” of Polish MiGs to the United States, as Poland announced on Tuesday.
According to a scenario that has been floated, Poland would deliver the fighter jets to the American base in Germany, where they would be repainted and transported to a non-NATO and non-European Union country. Ukrainian pilots would then come to transport them to Ukraine, as part of this proposal.
No country has been publicly identified as a transit point, but Kosovo, a non-aligned country very friendly to the United States, has been mentioned as one of several countries that may be willing to act as a middleman.
Poland had asked the United States to supply it with F-16 fighter jets to replace the MiGs.
F-16 production is lagging, however, and the next recipient awaiting new deliveries is Taiwan, which faces new threats from China and enjoys strong bipartisan support in Congress.
In its statement, the Polish government specifically asked for “used” planes, a distinction that would allow the Biden administration to circumvent congressional opposition to making Taiwan wait to receive its F-16s.
Earlier on Tuesday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said his country would support Poland if it handed over the planes, noting it could face the “direct consequence” of its decision.
“And for us to protect Poland, we will help them with whatever they need,” Wallace told Sky News.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said any decision on the delivery of offensive weapons must be taken unanimously by NATO members.
“That’s why we’re able to give our entire fighter jet fleet to Ramstein, but we’re not prepared to do anything on our own because…we’re not part of this war” , did he declare.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he believes the aid Congress hopes to approve later this week for Ukraine will include loan guarantees to help NATO allies rebuild their air forces after donating MiGs to Ukraine.
Knickmeyer reported from Washington. AP writer Danica Kirka in London and AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.