Updated Mar 8, 2022 - World

Pentagon rejects Polish plan to give fighter jets to U.S. to supply Ukraine

Polish MiG-29s
Photo: Karol Serewis/Getty Images Poland/Getty Images

The U.S. has rejected a plan from the Polish government to deploy Poland's entire fleet of used MiG-29 fighter jets to a U.S. airbase in Germany, which would have given the U.S. the option to then transfer the Soviet-era aircraft to Ukraine's military.

The latest: Pentagon press secretary John Kirby issued a statement Tuesday evening indicating that the Polish government had not consulted with the U.S. prior to its announcement.

What they're saying: "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," Kirby said.

  • "It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it," he added, stressing that the proposal "shows just some of the complexities this issue presents."
  • "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."

Why it matters: Ukraine has pleaded with the Western allies to either impose a "no-fly" zone or hand over warplanes that Ukrainian pilots could use to counter Russia's aerial assault.

Zoom in: Under one option being considered by the Biden administration, the U.S. would backfill Poland's MiG-29 fleet with American-made F-16 fighter jets.

  • The U.S. and Poland had downplayed the chances of such a deal as recently as Monday, warning of major logistics issues and the risk of provoking Russia.
  • That suddenly appeared to change on Tuesday, when Poland said it would send the MiGs to the U.S. in exchange for "used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities."
  • Poland also called on other eastern-flank NATO allies in possession of MiGs — Bulgaria and Slovakia — to take similar steps.

Between the lines: After Poland's announcement, which appeared to shift responsibility for making the deal happen to the U.S., a top State Department official said the Biden administration was not consulted.

  • "To my knowledge, it wasn't pre-consulted with us that they planned to give these planes to us," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland testified to the Senate.
  • Russia's Defense Ministry had warned on Sunday that any country that allows Ukrainian-operated airplanes to use their soil to attack the Russian military could be considered a participant in the conflict.

What to watch: The Biden administration is still facing bipartisan pressure from Congress to somehow facilitate the transfer of the jets to Ukraine.

  • In principle, the U.S. has said Poland has a "green light" to send the jets to Ukraine — but the logistical and political hurdles may be prove too difficult to surmount.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information from the Pentagon.

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