WASHINGTON: The Pentagon on Wednesday slammed the door on a Polish proposal for providing Ukraine with MiG fighter jets, saying allied efforts against the Russian invasion should be focused on more useful weaponry and the MiG transfer with a U.S. and NATO connection would run a “high risk” of escalating the war.
By rejecting the proposal involving Polish jets, the Pentagon appeared eager to shake off an embarrassing disconnect with NATO allies at a time when President Joe Biden stressed the need for a unified and coordinated response to the war in Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly pleaded with the United States to provide his military with more aircraft — an apparent alternative to establishing a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine to suppress Russian air power. Washington and NATO had earlier rejected the idea of a “no-fly” as an unnecessary risk of escalation.
Last week, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Washington was considering a proposal under which Poland would supply Kyiv with Soviet-era fighter jets that Ukrainian pilots would be trained to fly and then receive U.S. F-16s to fill the gap. lose.
But Poland did not want to get involved, fearing that it would become too directly involved in the conflict with Russia. Poland then said it was ready to hand over all 28 of its MiG-29 aircraft to NATO, fly them to the U.S. Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany, and then somehow fly from there to Ukraine.
This is an arrangement the Pentagon has abandoned.
Poland’s ambassador to the United States, Marek Magierowski, said the Polish government had received the information.
“Our American partners rejected this proposal, because they have come to the conclusion that it was too escalatory,” Magierowski told CNN. He said Poland understands and “this is what we need now to emphasize again — the unity and cohesion of NATO. So, let’s move on.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that in a phone call, Zelenskyy on Wednesday again asked urgently for the United States to provide warplanes, anti-aircraft missiles and other weaponry.
However, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed the MiG transfer proposal with his Polish counterpart and explained why Washington found it untenable.
Kirby said the Biden administration is talking with other countries about “alternative options” for supporting Ukraine’s most pressing defense needs two weeks into its war, especially more ground-based weapons to counter Russian tanks and aircraft in what has been largely a ground war. Kirby said those could include surface-to-air missile batteries and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
“Secretary Austin thanked the minister for Poland’s willingness to continue to look for ways to assist Ukraine,” Kirby said. “He stressed that we do not support the transfer of additional fighter aircraft to the Ukrainian air force at this time and therefore have no desire to see them in our custody, either.”
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Warsaw on Wednesday night for consultations, but the White House said she was not directly involved in the plane issue.
Kirby cited three main reasons for Austin’s rejection of the Polish proposal, the first being that the United States felt it would be wiser to provide Ukraine with weapons that could more directly bolster its defenses, including anti-armor and air defense systems. Kirby said the Russian Air Force, while much larger than Ukraine’s, did not play a leading role in Russia’s offensive and had limited effectiveness due to Ukraine’s use of ground-based air defenses, including Stinger missiles.
Kirby said Ukraine still has a large number of its own aircraft, and the U.S. believes that adding aircraft from other countries is “unlikely to significantly alter the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities.”
Additionally, the U.S. intelligence community assessed that the transfer of MiGs to Ukraine “could be mistaken for an escalation and could lead to a significant Russian response that could increase the prospect of a military escalation with NATO,” Kirby said. Ukraine is not a NATO member, but some of its neighbors are, and the alliance is trying to avoid spillovers from the war.
While Kirby’s announcement appears to end Poland’s proposal, open disagreements among the allies could have more lasting effects. Last week, the U.S. government threw a hot potato at Poland, demanding the dispatch of Soviet-made fighter jets.