The United States all but declined an offer from Poland on Tuesday to deliver an unspecified number of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine so that the warplanes could be used against invading Russian forces.
The unusual public offer, posted on the website of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, blindsided U.S. officials who said they were not consulted by the Polish government ahead of the proposal.
Poland has sought to equip Ukraine with aircraft to fight Russia even as Moscow has warned that any country hosting Ukraine’s military aircraft would be considered a party to the ongoing armed conflict there.
In its statement, Poland said it is “ready to deploy — immediately and free of charge — all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.” Ramstein is an American military facility located in Germany.
Kirby raised the prospect that Poland’s proposal could inflame tensions with Russia, which has depicted the conflict in Ukraine as one against Western aggression. Fighter jets “departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” he said, adding, “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it.”
The move by Poland appeared intended to shift the responsibility for delivering the aircraft — and risking a potential Russian military retaliation — to the United States. It occurred as the No. 3 official at the State Department, Victoria Nuland, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“To my knowledge, it wasn’t pre-consulted with us that they plan to give these planes to us,” Nuland, the under secretary of state for political affairs, told lawmakers. She characterized it as a “surprise move by the Poles.”
“I look forward when this hearing is over to getting back to my desk and seeing how we will respond to this proposal of theirs,” she said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that while all NATO countries have a “green light” to send fighter planes to Ukraine, the United States seeks to avoid directly confronting Russia. Washington has sent billions of dollars in military equipment to Ukraine in recent years.
A senior European official said Western officials were completely taken aback by Poland’s announcement. Another European official said he was “sideswiped.”
Poland’s announcement also requested that the United States “provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities” to offset the loss of planes it was offering Ukraine.
The offer would have served Poland by bolstering Ukraine’s resistance to Russia, a mutual geopolitical foe, and enhancing its own military. Poland, whose air force flies both the Russian-made MiG and the U.S.-manufactured F-16, in 2017 examined the possibility of replacing its MiGs with secondhand F-16s. At the time, they decided against doing so, considering such a deal cost-prohibitive.
Russia and Ukraine retain the bulk of their air forces, though aircraft have been lost on both sides, said a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon.
The airspace, this official said, remains “very contested,” with both side vying for control.
“Very little of the nation of Ukraine is not covered by some sort of Russian surface-to-air missile capability,” the defense official said.
Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.
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