A delicate dispute between the United States and NATO ally Poland cast doubt on Ukraine’s hopes of obtaining the MiG fighter jets it says it needs to defend against the Russian invasion
No one wants to stand alone behind the action, which could invite Russian retaliation.
The US government has thrown Poland a hot potato with a request to send Soviet-made fighter jets – which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly – to Ukraine. Poland immediately fired it, saying it was ready to hand over its 28 MiG-29 jets – but to NATO by flying them to the US base in Ramstein, Germany.
This plan caught the United States off guard. On Tuesday night, the Pentagon dismissed it as “untenable.” On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that ultimately each country should decide for itself. In diplospeak: “Poland’s proposal shows that the issue presents complexities when it comes to providing security assistance.”
Will Ukraine get the planes? Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Warsaw on Wednesday evening, although the White House said it would not deal with the aircraft issue. Blinken said the United States was consulting with Poland and other NATO allies. Pentagon Chief Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also consulted with their Polish counterparts, the White House said.
In the scenario proposed by Poland, it would be up to the entire NATO alliance, which takes its decisions unanimously, to decide.
Poland is already hosting more people fleeing war in Ukraine than any other country amid the biggest refugee crisis in decades. And he still fears neighboring Russia, despite the protection of the NATO umbrella.
Poland has endured invasions and occupations by Russia for centuries and still fears Russia despite being a member of NATO. He has already had to deal with the Russian territory of Kaliningrad on its northeastern border and is uncomfortable seeing Russian troops crossing another border, with Belarus.
During a visit to Vienna on Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki insisted that Poland was not a party to the war in Ukraine and that any decision on whether or not to send fighter jets could be taken only by Warsaw.
This carries the risk of “very dramatic scenarios, even worse than those we face today”, explained Morawiecki.
While big and strong, NATO is also deeply concerned about any move that could drag its 30 member nations into a wider war with a nuclear-armed Russia. Under NATO’s collective security guarantee, an attack on one member must be considered an attack on all. This is the main reason why Ukraine’s calls for a no-fly zone have gone unanswered. Ukraine is not a member of NATO.
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg again hailed the bravery of the Ukrainian people and armed forces in the face of an onslaught from a far more powerful adversary, but stressed that the largest security organization in world had to stick to its “painful decision” not to monitor the territory. sky over the country.
A few days earlier, US Secretary Blinken said that Washington had given the “green light” to the idea of supplying Ukraine with fighter jets and was considering a proposal that Poland would supply Kiev with the fighters of the Soviet era and would in turn receive American F-16s to compensate for the loss.
Michal Baranowski, director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund think tank, told The Associated Press that the Warsaw government “was caught off guard and surprised” by Blinken’s public demand.
“It was perceived as pressure from the United States on Warsaw. And so the reaction was to put the ball back in the US government’s court,” Baranowski said in an interview.
Everything “should have been dealt with behind the scenes,” he said.
Eric Tucker in Washington and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.