Poland’s government said it would be willing to transfer its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets to an American base in Germany, though it wasn’t immediately clear if the U.S. or other NATO allies would offer any support for the proposal.
It is possible that the Polish move was part of an eventual plan to allow jets onto Ukrainian soil. However, a high-ranking American official called Tuesday’s offer a surprise and said that Russian President Vladimir Putin would consider any attempt to implement it as aggression.
NATO nations — including Poland, Germany and the U.S.—have repeatedly committed themselves to the bloc’s vow to consider an attack on one ally as an attack on all. But Ukraine isn’t part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is why nations haven’t been willing to commit forces to the conflict following Russia’s invasion.
NATO’s direct involvement in Ukraine will only increase wartime tensions and create fears of nuclear conflict. Because it could lead to the shooting down of Russian aircraft, European and American officials have decided not to create a no-fly area over Ukraine.
Polish forces would be left with 48 F-16 warplanes if they were to give up their 28 Soviet-era MIG29 jets.
Sending Polish jets to the U.S. base at Ramstein, Germany, would possibly be seen as a way by authorities in Warsaw to aid the Ukrainian effort—or to kick responsibility for doing so to NATO as a whole.
“Poland’s proposal shows just some of the complexities this issue presents,” John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.
“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,” Kirby said. “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it.”
Reporters were referred to Poland by a State Department official.
Victoria Nuland, the U.S. undersecretary of State for political affairs, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that she didn’t think the Polish announcement was coordinated with Washington. Pressed on that point, she said “Not to my knowledge, and I was in a meeting where I ought to have heard about that just before I came. So I think that actually was a surprise move by the Poles.”