Poland announced on Tuesday it was ready to hand all its MiG-29 fighter jets to the US, apparently as part of an arrangement to deliver the warplanes to Ukraine‘s armed forces where they are desperately needed to fight off invading Russian forces.
The idea has been floating around for more than a week after Ukraine pleaded for more aircraft but the plan has been dogged by questions about how to deliver the planes to Ukrainian territory without dragging NATO into the conflict.
Tuesday’s announcement will be seen as a Polish effort to force the US and NATO to go further in backing the Ukrainian fight.
‘The authorities of the Republic of Poland, after consultations between the president and the government, are ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MIG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the government of the United States of America,’ said the Polish foreign ministry.
Poland is believed to have 28 MiG-29s – a Soviet-era fighter flown by the Ukrainian air force – although not all are airworthy.
‘At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,’ it said.
US officials say they are currently considering a proposal to send F-16s to Poland to ‘backfill’ its air force, replacing the MiGs, but have also suggested caution is in order.
The Polish announcement appeared to take them unawares.
Victoria Nuland, State Department undersecretary, was asked about the decision when she appeared before a Senate committee to discuss Ukraine.
‘I was in a meeting where I ought to have about that before I came so I think that actually was a surprise move by the Poles,’ she said.
Sources familiar with the issue said the problem was how to deliver the planes to Ukraine.
Russia has made clear that it will consider any use by Ukraine of neighboring country’s territory as a ‘casus belli,’ or justification for attack.
Poland says it is ready to hand over all its MiG-29 fighter jets to the US, as part of a plan to reinforce the Ukrainian air force
Poland said it was ready to deploy ‘immediately and free of charge’ all its MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the ‘disposal of the Government of the United States of America’
President Joe Biden announced a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas on Tuesday, but Washington now faces tough decisions about what to do with Poland’s offer of MiG fighters for Ukraine
A Ukrainian tank rolls along a main road in Kyiv on Tuesday. Russia’s main invasion column remains stalled outside the capital
CIA Director Bill Burns says Putin planned to take Kyiv in TWO DAYS before invasion stalled
CIA Director Bill Burns appeared before Congress on Tuesday morning
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency on Tuesday revealed that Vladimir Putin planned to capture the Ukrainian capital Kyiv within two days and warned that a frustrated Russian president could be about to escalate attacks on civilians.
‘You know, this is a matter of deep personal conviction for him,’ he told the House intelligence committee.
‘He’s been stewing in a combustible combination of grievance and ambition for many years.’
He said after two weeks of fighting, Russian forces had still not been able to encircle Kyiv, which Putin planned to capture in two days.
‘He’s likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties,’ said Burns.
‘But the challenge that he faces – and this is the biggest question that’s hung over our analysis of his planning for months now – … he has no sustainable political endgame in the face of what is going to continue to be fierce resistance from Ukrainians.’
That means Ukrainian pilots taking off from Poland or Germany in the MiGs would cross a Russian red line.
Asking Polish pilots to fly them in would also be viewed by Russia as NATO entering the conflict.
‘There were some logistical questions – important ones – that were still under discussion about where those planes would take off from and land,’ said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki when she was asked about the deal on Tuesday.
A day earlier, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby played down progress on any moves to supply planes.
‘I would just say again, we’re very early on in a discussion here about a possibility. It’s not even a done deal at this point,’ he said.
And hopes that the MiGs would offer an immediate breakthrough were further scotched by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki who said that the delivery of offensive weapons would have to be taken by all of NATO.
‘This is why we are ready to give all of our fleet of jet fighters to Ramstein, but we are not ready to make any moves on our own because, as I said, we are not party to this war,’ he said during a joint news conference with his Norwegian counterpart in Oslo.
It comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a ‘desperate plea for aircraft to fight Russian invaders during a video call on Saturday with U.S. legislators, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
‘These planes are very much needed. And I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer,’ he said in a statement.
Meanwhile the US and allies continue to deliver military aid to Ukraine. It is arriving on flights to neighboring countries with as many as 17 planes a day unloading weapons and other equipment at one undisclosed location.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley visited the airfield to inspect the historic effort, CNN reported.
Defense officials have said while Russia continues to fire long-range artillery at Ukrainian cities and make some territorial gains in its south, it has not yet attacked supply transfers.
This includes providing 17,000 anti-tank missiles and an additional 2,000 anti-aircraft missiles – at a time when video on the ground has showed Russian trucks and armored vehicles stopped in their tracks, while Ukrainian forces report downing helicopters and other aircraft.
The US says it has committed one billion dollars in the past year to shoring up Ukraine’s defenses and that most of the recently announced $350 million in aid has already arrived.
But the skies remain contested, according to a senior defense official who briefed reporters.
Earlier in the day, President Joe Biden warned Vladimir Putin that the Russian leader would never be able to declare victory in Ukraine.
In a White House speech, he promised to hunt down oligarchs’ assets, praised Ukrainian resistance and condemned the Russian leader for failing to allow ceasefires for humanitarian relief.
‘Putin seems determined to continue on his murderous path no matter the cost,’ he said.
Armed Ukrainian servicemen stand guard next to Czech-supplied ‘hedgehog’ defenses in downtown Kyiv
Russian troops continue to try and surround Kyiv ahead of what is expected to be an attack on the city, with intense fighting reported in the north west including hand-to-hand combat with Russian forces
But as he tightened the economic noose on Moscow by banning imports of Russian oil and gas, Biden said Putin had miscalculated.
‘He has already turned two million Ukrainians into refugees,’ he said.
‘Russia may continue to grind out its advance at a horrible price, but this much is already clear: Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin.
‘Putin may be able to take a city, but he’ll never be able to hold the country.
‘And if we do not respond to Putin’s assault on global peace and stability today, the cost of freedom, and to the American people, will be even greater tomorrow.’
Russia’s main column of armor has been stalled outside Kyiv for days amid reports of poor morale, lack of supplies and technical problems.
Captured soldiers have complained of a lack of food, fuel, and overall battle plan.
Although Russian forces have made gains elsewhere, it means Putin has failed in what US officials said was his plan to seize the capital within two days.
They say he miscalculated he strength of Ukrainian opposition and over-estimated the success of his efforts to protect his economy from sanctions.
Biden said: ‘We are enforcing the most significant package of economic sanctions in history, and it’s causing significant damage to Russia’s economy.’
And he promised not to cease efforts to make life difficult for the oligarchs around Putin.
‘The US Department of Justice has assembled a dedicated task force to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs and we’re joining with our European allies to find and seize their yachts, their luxury apartments or private jets and all their ill begotten games to make sure that they share in the pain of Putin’s war
‘Some of them are … I think I’ve read one was over 400 feet long. I mean, this is worth hundreds of millions of dollars.