Biden Attempts to Establish the Limits of U.S. Support for Ukraine
Washington hopes to support Ukraine without being drawn into the conflict.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its fourteenth day, the Biden administration is attempting to draw red lines on the scope of its military support for Kiev.
The Pentagon is sending two Patriot surface-to-air missile systems to Poland in an effort to bolster NATO’s eastern flank. “This defensive deployment is being conducted proactively to counter any potential threat to U.S. and Allied forces and NATO territory,” U.S. European Command said in a statement issued earlier this week.
The decision to transfer Patriot systems to Poland follows the deployment of 4,700 U.S. troops to Poland, a move aimed at boosting the alliance’s deterrence posture as the war in Ukraine continues to unfold. An additional 7,000 U.S. troops, including an armored brigade combat team, were sent to Germany shortly after Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine last month.
Warsaw recently announced that it is willing to deploy all of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and put them at the disposal of the United States, which could then presumably transfer the aircraft to Ukraine. "At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities. Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes,” the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The Pentagon promptly rejected Poland's proposal, describing it as untenable. “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,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it.”
In an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to give a “green light” to the idea of sending fighter jets to Ukraine through Poland. But the Biden administration later clarified that any such transfer would have to be conducted unilaterally by Poland. Warsaw, for its part, apparently sought to shift political and military responsibility for the transfer onto the United States.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed his frustration with the confusion on Wednesday. “When will there be a decision? Look, we're at war,” Zelenskyy said in a video posted on his Telegram channel. “We ask you again to decide as soon as possible. Send us planes.”
Zelenskyy reiterated his call for a Western-enforced no-fly zone in Ukrainian airspace, a demand that has been explicitly rejected by Washington and London. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said last week that a no-fly zone could provoke a wider European war at a time when the alliance seeks to keep the conflict contained within Ukrainian territory.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.