Pentagon: U.S. does not support sending Polish warplanes to Ukraine
The Biden administration does not currently support sending Polish warplanes to Ukraine, viewing the move as "high risk" and "not likely to change the effectiveness" of Ukraine's air force relative to Russia's capabilities, the Pentagon said Wednesday.
Why it matters: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and bipartisan members of Congress have demanded that the U.S. facilitate the transfer of the Soviet-era MiG-29s to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia's aerial assault.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said on Sunday that Poland had a "green light" to transfer the planes, but the administration was sent scrambling when the Polish government announced Tuesday it would hand the aircraft over to the U.S. to complete the deal.
- A senior U.S. defense official told reporters on Wednesday that Poland had not consulted with the Pentagon about the proposal.
What they're saying: "We assess that adding aircraft to the Ukrainian inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian air force relative to Russian capabilities. Therefore, we believe that the gain from transferring those MiG-29s is low," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said at a press conference.
- "The intelligence community has assessed the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory, and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO. Therefore, we also assess the transfer of the MiG-29s to Ukraine to be high-risk," he added.
- "Polish generosity is clearly on display for the whole world to see. But at this time, we believe the provision of additional fighter aircraft provides little increased capabilities at high risk."
Between the lines: The Biden administration has already provided Ukraine with millions of dollars worth of Javelin and Stinger missiles, but has remained very cautious about crossing a line that could provoke Russia.
- Pressed on why the U.S. was comfortable sending anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles — but not planes — Kirby deferred to the U.S. intelligence community's risk assessment.
- "It is their assessment, one in which [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] concurs, that the transfer of combat aircraft right now could be mistaken by Mr. Putin and the Russians as an escalatory step," Kirby said.
What to watch: It's unclear whether bipartisan pressure in Congress will relent or simply shift to a more viable option than the MiG-29s, such as air defense systems that could help Ukraine shoot down Russian planes.