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Thursday 9 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Alamy Stock Photo A Polish air force MiG-29 jet fighter aircraft.
# Explainer
Why did the US reject Poland's offer of Soviet-era fighter jets?
Security analyst Dr Tom Clonan said the West giving Ukraine fighter jets is much more “provocative” than anti-tank missiles.

THERE WAS CONFUSION after Poland offered Soviet-era jets to the United States, and onto Ukraine free of charge via a US air base in Ramstein, Germany.

The offer came late last night, amid repeated pleas from Ukrainian politicians, citizens and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the West to shut off the country’s skies from Russian planes and bombs. 

But soon after the offer was announced in an official statement by the Polish government, the US had said the offer was a surprise.

A spokesperson for the White House said that this offer had been made without prior consultation with the US – which is unusual for how governments tend to operate.

A US rejection of the offer

By the morning the US had rejected the offer for the MiG-29 fighter jets. 

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that the prospect of the jets flying from a US-NATO base “into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.”

“It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” he added.

Although the United States and European allies have supplied Ukraine with weapons, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, they have stopped short of sending fighter jets for fear of escalating the conflict with Russia.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy reacted angrily on his Telegram channel to the news. 

“We have seen in the media that there are discussions between the American and Polish sides. But we sense that the Polish offer is not supported,” Zelenskyy said.

“We don’t have time for the media, for all these signals. This isn’t ping-pong. It’s human lives.”

Ukraine’s air force fleet consists of aging Soviet-era MiG-29 and Sukhoi-27 jets, and heavier Sukhoi-25 jets – and these are the only planes Ukrainian pilots could fly immediately without additional training.

‘Weaponised’

“If those aircraft arrive from Poland or from the US air base,” security specialist Dr Tom Clonan told The Journal, “it’s an act of war by NATO on Russia.”

“When stinger missiles arrive in Ukraine, they’re disassembled and put together and weaponised by the Ukraine military.

“But if airlines take off from the US airbase or a Polish airbase, complete and weaponised, it’s far more provocative and will be an actual act of war on the Russians.” 

Ukraine airspace dominated by the Russian anti-aircraft systems, that’s why the Americans can’t do it. 

Dr Clonan added that if NATO were to take such an action, and is seen to be the first to act, then Russian President Vladimir Putin can turn to the Russian people and say “I told you so, I was right about the West”. 

He added that though further escalation with Russia seems inevitable, there is hope that Putin may back down.

“He’s achieved a great deal, consolidated hold on Luhansk and Donestk, and taken Mariupol,” Clonan said, adding that he may be persuaded to stand down, particularly because of Chernobyl and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

On whether a no-fly zone would have ever been possible in Ukraine, Dr Clonan said that it worked “okay” against Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya because “they don’t have nuclear weapons”.

‘Significant’ financial support

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking at a Berlin press conference alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is also opposed to the jet offer.

Germany has given “significant” financial support to Ukraine, as well as offering humanitarian aid and some weapons, he said.

“Apart from that, we have to think very carefully about what we are doing, and this certainly does not include fighter jets,” Scholz added.

Trudeau warned of the risk of “expanding or escalating” the war.

“We want to de-escalate the conflict, we want to see an end to this conflict,” he said. “We will be there to support Ukrainians in every way that we can, but we need to be mindful of the best way to support them.”

What happens next?

Ultimately though, the White House has said that the decision lies with Poland on what to do with its fighter jets. 

John Kirby stressed that Washington’s stance was that “the decision about whether to transfer Polish-owned planes to Ukraine is ultimately one for the Polish government.”

It’s also worth noting that the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to Moldova on Sunday that Washington was “actively” looking at a deal with Poland to provide Ukraine with the MiG-29s.

Poland’s decision to publicly float its plan also came the day before US Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to depart for Warsaw for talks with Polish officials.

It has been stressed that this was a preplanned visit. 

With reporting from AFP 

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