US rejects delivery of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine as too risky

DThe US government has opposed the delivery of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. The reason given was the risk of an escalation of the conflict with Russia. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that the secret services had come to the conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin could misinterpret the deployment of fighter jets as an escalation step. The United States also rejected a proposal by Poland to hand over MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine with a stopover at a US base in Germany.

On the one hand, Kirby commented directly on Poland’s proposal – but also made general statements with regard to deliveries of fighter jets to Ukraine. “We do not support handing over more fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force at this time,” he said. Poland’s proposal was problematic simply because the fighter jets were to fly from a US or NATO base into contested Ukrainian airspace. “We believe that the deployment of additional fighter jets provides little additional capability at high risk,” Kirby said. At the same time, he made it clear: “We’re not drawing a red line here.”

The move could “lead to a significant Russian response that could increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO,” Kirby warned. The potential for an escalation should not be increased – also “in view of the fact that Mr. Putin has other abilities”. Russia is a nuclear power. “There is no doubt about it,” the Pentagon spokesman warned. The US Department of Defense also stressed that the Poles had not discussed their proposal beforehand.

Berlin immediately declined

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday evening that the government was ready to move all MiG-29 combat aircraft to the US Ramstein Air Force Base in Rhineland-Palatinate immediately and to make the machines available to the United States. The proposal was greeted with surprise and skepticism in the USA – Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected it outright. Warsaw had previously repeatedly ruled out direct delivery of the aircraft to the neighboring country, which Russia could interpret as direct intervention in the war.

The United States has now emphasized that it has no interest whatsoever in receiving fighter jets at one of its bases. However, the Pentagon also made it clear that it generally had little regard for the delivery of fighter jets to Ukraine. One of the reasons given by the ministry was that this would not significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian air force in relation to Russian capabilities.

The gain from such a move is “small,” Kirby said. The Ukrainian Air Force also has several operational aircraft. The ministry also said that the Ukrainian air defense system was still functional and effective. However, in a note verbale dated March 3, the Ukrainian embassy in Berlin asked the German government to supply weapon systems, including “multipurpose combat aircraft”.

Conflicting tones from Washington

At the weekend, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken struck a different note with regard to the delivery of fighter jets. “We are currently actively looking at the issue of planes that Poland could deliver to Ukraine. And how we could then deliver if Poland decides (…) to deliver these planes,” he said. Pentagon spokesman Kirby tried to stress that the US Defense and State Departments are on the same page. “Minister Blinken was 100 percent right that it was not our job to tell Poland what to do and what not to do.” There had been discussions about the fighter jets and this is the result.

The decision to let Ukraine have Polish warplanes is ultimately a matter for the Polish government, the US government said. The Polish government previously argued that the decision to pass it on was up to NATO – and suggested a detour via the US base in Germany. Russia had warned that it would be considered interference in an armed conflict if states allowed Ukrainian planes to land at their airfields, which then attacked Russian forces.

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