Ukrainian MiG-29 fiasco worsens

A view of Polish Air Force MIG-29 fighter jets at the 22nd Command at Malbork Air Base, Poland, August 27, 2021.


Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It turns out that the US decision to deny Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine is even worse than what we wrote on Thursday. The White House now confirms the decision went all the way to President Biden, who vetoed the plane’s delivery for fear it would provoke Vladimir Putin and risk escalating the war.

The logic seems to be that sending in deadly anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons will not provoke the Russians, but 28 fixed-wing aircraft will. This distinction is difficult to parse, especially when the Pentagon also says that the Ukrainians don’t need the jets because their other weapons are more effective. So sending less lethal planes will lead to World War III, but not truly lethal weapons?

The biggest problem is the message this fiasco sends to Mr. Putin about NATO. The essence of credible deterrence is making an adversary believe that certain actions will elicit a response. By not sending out the fighters so ostentatiously and saying the reason is fear of escalation, Mr Biden is telling the Russian what he need not worry about. Instead of deterring Mr. Putin, Mr. Biden lets Russia deter the US

It becomes a pattern with the Commander-in-Chief. In Afghanistan, he demanded a quick and dirty exit on a certain date for fear of provoking the Taliban who had taken power. The result was American humiliation that may have influenced Mr. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

This month, the administration halted a planned test of a US nuclear missile after Mr Putin issued a vague nuclear threat. The test had nothing to do with Ukraine, and Russia knew it, but the Pentagon Biden stopped the test anyway. This is a new blow to the credibility of American deterrence.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin is stepping up his assault on Ukraine anyway. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov admitted on Thursday that the Russians deliberately targeted the Mariupol maternity hospital. Mr. Putin knows what NATO will not do to stop him.

Wonder Land: The world, led by NATO, should guarantee Lviv’s status as a ‘free city’, just as Western powers did for West Berlin in 1948. Images: Keystone-France/Gamma- Keystone/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Appeared in the March 11, 2022 print edition.


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