A Polish offer to donate MiG-29s to Ukraine surprised US officials

Poland’s offer to donate MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine surprised US officials on Tuesday, raising fears that the move could push NATO allies into a more direct conflict with Russia. Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in Warsaw on Wednesday for talks on how to help Ukraine counter Putin’s aggression.

The Pentagon rejected, on Tuesday, Poland’s surprise announcement that it would give the United States its MiG-29 combat aircraft for use by Ukraine, describing the offer as untenable.

A Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said Poland’s announcement of its intention to deliver 28 aircraft to Ramstein Air Base in Germany has raised concerns about the possibility of warplanes leaving the US and NATO base to fly into the airspace contested with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

“We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies on this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it poses, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is defensible,” Kirby said in a statement.

The proposed gift of more warplanes would be a morale booster for Ukrainians who have been under ruthless Russian attack for nearly two weeks. But it also increases the risk of the war spilling over beyond Ukraine.

Russia declared that supporting the Ukrainian Air Force would be tantamount to joining the war, and could induce retaliation.

White House officials were surprised by the Polish announcement of the MiGs. The proposal was not brought up during talks with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken when he was in Poland recently, according to a US official familiar with the talks. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said White House officials did not believe the proposal would easily solve the logistical challenges of providing the planes to Ukraine.

US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told lawmakers at a hearing on the Ukraine crisis, Tuesday, that she only learned of Poland’s plans while driving to the hearing. “As far as I know, we have not been consulted in advance,” Noland told senators.

German officials also said there were no plans for MiGs to fly from Ramstein Air Force Base.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz noted that Germany provided Ukraine with financial and humanitarian aid, in addition to some weapons. “But it’s also true that we have to think very hard about what we’re doing concretely, and warplanes are certainly not part of that,” he added.

A State Department spokesman added that any decisions should be taken with the aim of preventing the war in Ukraine from spilling over to NATO.

Ukraine demands warplanes: the delivery of 28 Polish-Soviet MiG-29s is unlikely to change the rules of the game militarily. The MiG-29 is inferior to the most advanced Russian aircraft and can be easy prey for Russian pilots and missiles.

Ukraine is demanding more warplanes as it resists stronger Russian forces. Washington was considering a proposal under which Poland would supply Ukraine with MiG-29s and in return would receive American F-16s. Ukrainian pilots have been trained to fly Soviet-era MiG-29s.

Any MiG transfer will be accompanied by complications. Neither NATO nor the European Union wants to be seen as directly involved in such a deal, which would exacerbate already high tensions with Russia.

To maintain the claim that NATO and the European Union are not direct participants in the Ukraine conflict, American and Polish officials have been considering a variety of options. Under one scenario, Poland will deliver fighter jets to the US base in Germany, where they will be repainted and transferred to a non-NATO, non-EU country. Then the Ukrainian pilots come to take them to Ukraine.

No country has been publicly identified as a transit point, but Kosovo, a nonaligned country very friendly with the United States, was mentioned as one of several countries that might be willing to serve as a midpoint.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said any decision on the delivery of offensive weapons must be taken unanimously by NATO members.

“That is why we are able to give Ramstein our entire fleet of jet fighters. But we are not prepared to take any steps on our own because… we are not a party to this war.

Poland has publicly put forward a plan to donate its MiGst a day before Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to leave for Warsaw for talks with Polish officials. The subsequent American offer and rejection would likely add an embarrassing layer to the talks, which were expected to focus largely on American efforts to help Poland and other eastern European countries that have struggled to take in some two million refugees since the war began.

A senior US defense official said the Ukrainians are flying relatively few of their current aircraft, for a relatively short time, as they are. The defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the US assessment, said it was likely that Ukraine did not need more aircraft and would benefit most from other weapons it uses effectively every day, including Stinger and Javelin anti-tank anti-aircraft systems. missiles.

The official also said that Russia currently has the ability to reach almost all of Ukraine with surface-to-air missiles, including from within Russia and from ships in the Black Sea.

Reuters

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