The decision comes after US lawmakers held a virtual meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
US Secretary of State Tony Blinken told CBS News on Sunday that Washington had given a “green light” NATO members to supply Ukraine with combat aircraft, and that the United States would endeavor to replace all aircraft sent to Kiev. Blinken spoke after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged U.S. lawmakers to intervene in the ongoing conflict with Russia.
Asked if NATO members could start sending planes to Ukraine, Blinken said “who gets a green light.” The head of US diplomacy then said that Washington was already working with Polish officials to “backfill” any aircraft they would send to Ukraine – meaning the United States would replace every Polish aircraft donated to Kiev with an American aircraft.
Supporting the delivery of jets to Ukraine occupies a middle ground for the United States between active intervention in Ukraine and purely economic retaliation against Moscow. The Kiev government has made no secret of its desire to see the United States intervene militarily, with President Zelensky urging American lawmakers on Saturday to enforce a “no-fly zone” on Ukraine. Such a step would see the United States and any willing NATO allies commit to downing Russian planes, which Moscow has explicitly said it will perceive as an act of war.
The United States and NATO have ruled out a no-fly zone and have repeatedly said they will not send troops to Ukraine.
However, delivering fighter jets to the Ukrainians has not been easy so far. The European Union promised fighter jets to Ukraine late last month, but faced two significant hurdles: first finding planes that Ukrainian pilots could fly, then finding countries willing to deliver them from their airports.
The Ukrainian Air Force uses Soviet-designed MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-24, Su-25 and Su-27 aircraft in combat roles, and with the Su-25 used by Bulgaria and the MiG- 29 used by Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia, the jets should come from these countries.
Shortly after the EU announcement, Poland said it would not send jets to Ukraine or allow its airports to be used for deliveries. Bulgaria and Slovakia then declared that they would not participate in any agreement, thus killing the EU’s arms supply plans.
However, Blinken’s statement on Sunday suggests the plan may have been revived, but by the US and Poland rather than the EU. Blinken gave no indication of when the Polish planes might be on their way to Ukraine, but said talks between Washington and Warsaw were “active.”