Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Pawel Jablonski said that his country does not want to bear the full responsibility of the risk involved in transferring MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.
“It cannot be that Poland is the only NATO country to bear the risk, and other countries would not have to compensate or share it with us in any way; we will continue to talk with our allies about MiG-29 planes,” Jablonski told Polish media on March 9, 2022.
The remarks shed light on the recent communication between the Polish and the United States governments. As an exchange of official statements continues, the plan to supply Ukraine with military jets seems to have stalled.
Promises and denials
On February 27, 2022, several days after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a high-ranking European Union official announced that the EU is ready to supply Poland with fighter jets in addition to an increase in other kinds of military aid.
The statement was met with enthusiasm in Ukraine, as the country’s air force buckled under ‘an all-out assault by Russian military. It has been reported that Polish, Slovakian and Bulgarian fleets of Soviet-era fighter jets and attack aircraft can be transferred to Ukraine, whose pilots are the most familiar with such hardware.
However, all three countries swiftly denied the deal, saying that the transfer would deplete their air defense capability and further escalate the conflict.
On March 6, 2022, several news outlets reported that Poland has actually agreed to transfer its MiG-29 jets to Ukraine in exchange for an equivalent number of new US-made F-16 fighters. The reports were vehemently denied and called “fake news” by an official Twitter account belonging to the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland.
On the same day, the US Foreign Secretary said the US has given the “green light” to any NATO country that wants to deliver its jets to Ukraine. The statement seemed to imply that the transfer should be the responsibility of NATO members other than the US and urged them to act.
Two days later, the Polish government issued a joint statement saying that it is ready to give up its entire fleet of MiG-29s, however, that would have to happen through the US.
“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,” the statement said, implying that the further transfer, from Rammstein Air Base to Ukraine, is the responsibility of the US.
The statement sparked a response from the US State Department. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby called the proposition “not tenable” and pointed out that a shipment of MiG-29s from a NATO base directly to Ukraine may pose a serious safety risk, as it could be viewed as NATO getting involved in the war on behalf of Ukraine.
Kirby also said that Poland’s rationale is “not clear”.
Jablonski appears to be addressing Kirby’s comment in his March 9 statement, calling on other NATO countries to share responsibility for the transfer and its possible consequences.
The sentiment has been echoed by Jakub Kumoch, a member of the Polish presidential administration who, in an interview with Polish broadcaster TVP, said that the main concern is to provide Ukraine with necessary aid while preventing the possibility of nuclear escalation.
“The problem is as follows: how to deliver the MiGs and at the same time not involve the entire Alliance in the war. Here, I underline, the decision not to enter the war is a decision of NATO, an American decision, a decision of our allies,” Kumoch said.
“Poland is doing everything not to be dragged into the war,” he added.