The Pentagon on Wednesday offered a conclusive rejection of a plan to transfer fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine to battle Russian forces there, saying the “high risk” move could have been interpreted as an escalation.
The issue of the jet transfer, which Ukraine’s leadership has been eager to see resolved as it seeks to counter Russian aggression in the skies, has proven to be a notable hiccup in the otherwise solid alliance between the United States and its European allies over Moscow’s invasion.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak earlier Wednesday and thanked him for Warsaw’s willingness to cooperate in the effort to assist Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“But he 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.
Warsaw had expressed support for a plan in which Poland would have sent its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Kyiv via a US air base in Germany, with the suggested follow-on step that the United States would backfill Poland’s fleet with American F-16 fighters.
“That is something that we are not going to explore right now,” Kirby said, adding that adding aircraft to Ukraine’s fighter fleet was “not likely to significantly change the effectiveness” of the Ukrainian Air Force against Russian capabilities.
“Therefore, we believe that the gain from transferring those MiG-29s is low.”
Kirby said the intelligence community had assessed that the MiG transfer to Ukraine “may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation” with the NATO alliance.
“Therefore, we also assess the transfer of the MiG-29s to Ukraine to be high risk.”
The Pentagon’s on-the-record remarks appear to bring an end — at least for now — to the back and forth on the possible fighter jet transfer scheme.
Kirby said the best way to support Ukrainian defense is by providing them with weapons they need the most, particularly air defense systems.
“We along with other nations continue to send them these weapons and we know that they’re being used with great effect,” he added.