The United States has rejected Poland’s offer to send its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine via a U.S. air base in Germany, saying the proposal raised “serious concerns” for the entire NATO alliance.
Warsaw made the surprise offer Tuesday amid repeated calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for more warplanes to replenish his country’s air force as it defends itself against invading Russian forces.
The Polish program proposed that Russian MiG-29 fighter jets be delivered to a U.S. base in Ramstein, Germany, and then deployed to Ukraine.
But Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the prospect of the jets flying from a U.S.-NATO base “into airspace contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.”
“We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies on this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is tenable,” Kirby said in a statement.
“It is simply not clear to us that there is any substantial justification for this,” he added.
While a significant portion of the Ukrainian air force remains intact since the war began on Feb. 24, both Ukraine and Russia have suffered significant losses and neither controls the airspace over the country.
The Ukrainian air force fleet consists of aging Soviet-era MiG-29 and Sukhoi-27 aircraft, and heavier Sukhoi-25 aircraft — and these are the only aircraft Ukrainian pilots could fly immediately without additional training.
And while Ukraine has stepped up its appeals to Western allies to provide military aircraft, providing Kiev with fighter jets presents serious risks.
Russia has warned that supporting the Ukrainian air force would be seen in Moscow as participating in the conflict and would open suppliers to possible retaliation.
NATO has said it does not want a direct conflict with Moscow, another nuclear power, and U.S. President Joe Biden has ruled out sending U.S. troops to Ukraine to fight, which the Pentagon said would apply to ground troops or in the air, flying missions.
After Poland announced its offer, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told U.S. lawmakers that Washington had been caught off guard.
“To my knowledge, we were not consulted beforehand about the fact that they were planning to give us these planes,” Nuland said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “So I think it was actually a surprise decision on the part of the Poles,” she said.