Biden admin rules out transfer of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine

The Biden administration has ruled out the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine because it would be a “high risk” step that could ratchet up tensions with Russia, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Poland had offered to donate Soviet-era MiG 29 aircraft to Ukraine via a U.S. air base in Germany, but Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Polish counterpart, Mariusz Błaszczak, that the U.S. opposed the proposal, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

In a phone call with the Polish defense minister, Austin “stressed that we do not support the transfer of additional fighter aircraft to the Ukrainian air force at this time, and therefore have no desire to see them in our custody, either,” Kirby said.

An assessment from the U.S. intelligence community concluded that sending the fighter jets to Ukraine would be a “high risk” step that could escalate tensions with Russia, Kirby said.

He added that the aircraft would only provide a modest benefit for Ukraine’s military situation.

“We believe the provision of additional fighter aircraft provides little increased capabilities at high risk,” Kirby said. 

The United States at all times needed to weigh how any step could affect tensions with Russia, he said.

“We need to be careful about every decision we make,” Kirby said.

“We also believe that there are alternative options that are much better suited to support the Ukrainian military in their fight against Russia,” said Kirby, without providing examples.

At a White House briefing earlier, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about why there had been a series of confusing public statements from both the U.S. and Poland in recent days. Psaki said there had been a “temporary breakdown in communication.” 

Psaki also said there were serious “logistical” questions about how such a transfer could be carried out given that Ukraine was under attack.

Poland’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that it was ready to send its MiG-29 jets to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and put them at the disposal of the United States. And it urged other members of the NATO alliance that had similar planes to follow suit.

But U.S. officials said they had no advance warning of the announcement and were taken completely by surprise.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday called on the United States and other NATO allies to provide his country with fighter planes to help fight invading Russian forces. U.S. lawmakers endorsed his appeal and urged the White House to take action.

Courtney Kube contributed.

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