Although Poland has been given a “green light” to send fighter jets to Ukraine, the potential transfer is being impeded by a number of significant political and technical challenges.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS News on Sunday that Washington supports the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine. "That gets the green light," Blinken said. “In fact, we're talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians. What can we do? How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they are handing over to the Ukrainians?"
Reports emerged late last month that Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria were planning to send dozens of Soviet-era MiG-29 and Su-25 fighter jets to Ukraine. However, those rumors were rebuffed last week during a press conference held by NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Polish president Andrzej Duda.
“Gentlemen, as Secretary General has now said, we are not sending any jets to Ukraine because that would open a military interference in the Ukrainian conflict. We are not joining that conflict. NATO is not a party to that conflict. However, as I said, we are supporting Ukrainians with [humanitarian] aid. However, we are not going to send any jets to the Ukrainian airspace,” Duda said. Duda’s comments echoed the consensus view of NATO officials and Western leaders that transferring fighter jets to Ukraine could cause an escalation at a time when the alliance is principally concerned with ensuring the conflict does not spill over into a broader European war.
Aside from the West’s political concerns, the potential transfer is complicated by technical challenges. It is not clear that the Ukrainian air force has enough qualified pilots who can fly MiG-29s, nor is it apparent that Slovakia and Bulgaria are in a position to send nearly as many jets as suggested by the initial, unverified reports. Safely transporting these aircraft to Ukraine is itself a complex task in light of the risk of Russia targeting foreign weapons shipments entering the country.
A statement by the Polish military on March 3 appeared to confirm that no such transfer had been agreed on. “All the Polish Air Force MiG-29 aircraft remain at their home bases. All the Polish aircraft are marked with the Air Force checkerboard,” the Polish Armed Forces General Command stated.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.