The Pentagon said late on March 8 that Poland’s offer to send fighter jets is not tenable, after Poland’s Foreign Ministry announced it would deploy MiG-29 jets to the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany “and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.”
The deployment of the 28 MiG-29s would be immediate and free of charge, the Foreign Ministry added. “At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” it said in a statement.
The Polish government also called on other NATO member nations that own MiG-29 planes to transfer their planes to the United States.
In a statement late on March 8, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said: “The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ 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.
“It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” he said.
Kirby said the United States is “now in contact” with the Polish government over the matter.
“As we have said, the decision about whether to transfer Polish-owned planes to Ukraine is ultimately one for the Polish government,” he noted. “We will continue consulting with our Allies and partners about our ongoing security assistance to Ukraine, because, in fact, Poland’s proposal shows just some of the complexities this issue presents.”
Earlier on March 8, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told lawmakers that the Polish government’s announcement about sending fighter jets “wasn’t pre-consulted with us.” She said she found out about the proposal while driving to testify about the Ukraine crisis before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalated on Feb. 24, Ukraine has asked its Western allies to send fighter planes and weapons, and to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
NATO’s chief and White House officials have said they aren’t considering a no-fly zone, as that would mean NATO or U.S. planes would shoot down Russian ones.
On March 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that any country imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would be considered as entering the conflict.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on March 6 declared that any country that let planes operated by Ukrainians attack the Russian military from the territory of that country would be considered as entering the conflict.
Neither NATO nor the European Union wants to be seen as a direct participant in the Russia–Ukraine conflict.
Polish President Andrzej Duda previously said on March 1 that NATO would not directly move planes into Ukrainian airspace. “We are not sending any jets to Ukraine because that would open a military interference in the Ukrainian conflict,” he said. “We are not joining that conflict. NATO is not a party to that conflict.”
The United States also has no plan to directly transfer planes to Ukraine.
The United States on March 6 indicated it was considering a proposal under which Poland would supply Ukraine with the MiG-29s and in turn receive American F-16s. Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly the MiG-29s, which were first manufactured in the 1970s by the Soviet Union.
Under the proposal, Poland would deliver the fighter jets to the U.S. base in Germany, where they would be repainted and flown to a non-NATO, non-European Union country; Ukrainian pilots would then come to fly them to Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on March 6 in an interview with CBS News the proposal “gets a green light.” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield also reiterated the message on the same day during an interview on ABC.
“We have been in close consultations with the Polish government as well as with our other NATO allies on this issue. We have not in any way opposed the Polish government providing these jets to Ukraine, and we’re working, as you noted, to see how we can backfill for them,” Thomas-Greenfield said at the time.
Former Soviet-bloc NATO members Bulgaria and Slovakia also still have Soviet-made fighter jets in their air forces. The Ukrainian parliament previously claimed on March 1 that Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria were sending over their Russian-made MiG-29s. Defense officials of Bulgaria and Slovakia have since clarified that they were not planning to make such a donation.
Bill Pan, Jack Phillips, Katabella Roberts, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.