Following US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement on “Face the Nation” last March 6, stating that the US is actively working with the Polish Government to send their own aircraft to resupply the Ukrainian Air Force in exchange for American F-16s, Poland is now ready to hand over 28 units of their MiG-29 fighter jets, but with a twist – the Polish will deliver them to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and will leave it to the US to deliver it to Ukraine.

This announcement came as a shock to US officials as they have been trading messages back and forth throughout the week discussing the deal, with the Polish initially hesitant toward giving up their MiG-29 fighter jets. The proposal was also not done in consultation with the US as the deal wasn’t mentioned to Blinken when he was in Poland. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland also stated that she only heard of the Polish proposal while driving to a hearing with US Senators. “To my knowledge, it wasn’t pre-consulted with us,” said Nuland.

“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 Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In effect, this would leave the US to deliver the jets to Ukraine. It’s important to note that the statement does not mention any reference to Ukraine or Russia, seemingly avoiding a potential collision with Russia.

This transfer of Polish MiG-29 fighter jets is extremely important to the Ukrainian Air Force as they also operate some 90 MiGs in their inventory. The exact numbers are unknown as multiple aircraft were destroyed during the initial Russian bomb missions on military installations. If such a deal were to be fulfilled, the skill and knowledge transfer would be seamless.

However, as SOFREP editor-in-chief Sean Spoonts had earlier stated, these MiG-29 fighter jets operate past their expiration date when compared to more modern fighters, even if upgraded with electronics and missiles. Thus, the donations would not be a large game-changer for Ukrainians as it would be inferior to more advanced Russian aircraft and missiles. However, it is also important to note that the Ukrainian Forces have been doing fairly well with defending against Russian aircraft, downing 4 Su-25 close air support aircraft, 1 An-26 transport aircraft, 3 Su-27 fighter aircraft, 1 MiG-29 fighter, and 2 Mi-24V/P attack helicopters. So it appears the Ukrainians have been careful to send their Mig-29s up against targets they still have an advantage over in aerial combat.

In exchange for the donation of the MiG-29s, the Polish Government requested that the US also supply them with used aircraft with ‘corresponding operational capabilities.’ “Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes,” they said in a statement. They also called upon all allied nations operating MiG-29s to donate their aircraft to Ukraine and’ act in the same vein’.

Poland is a major buyer of U.S. Weaponry, with Poland ordering 32 units of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter last 2020 worth over $4.6 billion. The first delivery of these jets would be around 2024. Poland’s Air Force also operates some 48 Block 52+ F-16C/D Vipers.  This month the country also recently inked a deal for $6 Billion that includes 250 Abrams tanks, 250 counter-IED systems, 26 M88 combat recovery vehicles, 17 joint assault bridges, 276 M2 .50-caliber machine guns and ammunition.

While the US previously signaled that it approved of Poland sending the jets to Ukraine, the State Department is now balking at the logistics of delivering them. Poland is concerned that flying MiG-29s directly to Ukraine would result in them being directly involved with the conflict and may be interpreted by Russia as an act of war. They also may be potentially shot down by the Russians themselves in the process. This would directly drag NATO into the conflict, potentially starting a full-on war involving multiple countries.

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US Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby subsequently rejected the proposal stating logistical issues on par with Poland’s concern. He said that they would be continually working with the Polish Government to solve the issue.

“We will continue consulting with our Allies and partners about our ongoing security assistance to Ukraine because, in fact, Poland’s proposal shows just some of the complexities this issue presents,” said Kirby.  Critics would point out the seeming contradiction of not wanting to be seen transferring Mig-29s to Ukraine when the United States has provided over $1 billion in direct military assistance to Ukraine in the form of Stinger surface to air missiles, Javelin anti-tank missiles, and various other weapons that all arrived at U.S. military bases before being shipped to Ukraine.

It would seem the issue could be solved by Poland formally transferring the jets to the Ukrainian government, repainting them with Ukraine markings, and then allow Ukraine to send its own pilots to recover aircraft that is now the legal property of their state. The United States as a part of its official position has a posture of “Qualified Neutrality” as it is described in the DoD Manual of War (§ 15.2.2);

[A]fter treaties outlawed war as a matter of national policy, it was argued that neutral States could discriminate in favor of States that were victims of wars of aggression. Thus, before its entry into World War II, the United States adopted a position of “qualified neutrality” in which neutral States had the right to support belligerent States that had been the victim of flagrant and illegal wars of aggression.

“The prospect of fighter jets at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” he continued.

Kirby stated that the logistical problems remain a challenge and that they did not believe that Poland’s proposal was a “tenable” one.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated that the delivery of these jets should be made collectively by NATO members saying they were not ready to make moves on their own.

“This is why we are able to give all of our fleet of jet fighters to Ramstein. But we are not ready to make any moves on our own because … we are not a party to this war.” said the Polish Prime Minister.

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