March 8, 2022 By Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland said Tuesday it would give all of its MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S., apparently agreeing to an arrangement that would allow them to be used by Ukraine’s military.
The decision is expected to be a morale booster for Ukraine as continued fighting deepens the humanitarian catastrophe as Russian forces bomb its cities. But it also raises the risks of a wider war.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment on Poland’s announcement.
Ukraine has been pleading for more warplanes and Washington has been looking at a proposal under which Poland would supply Ukraine with Soviet-era fighters and in turn receive American F-16s to make up for their loss. Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly Soviet-era fighter jets.
The Polish Foreign Ministry announced in a statement that Poland was ready to deliver the jets to the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany immediately and free of charge.
“At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” it said.
The Polish government also appealed to other owners of MiG-29 jets to follow suit.
Former Soviet-bloc NATO members Bulgaria and Slovakia also still have Soviet-made fighter jets in their air forces.
The handover of Poland’s 28 Soviet-made MiG-29s signals the Western resolve to do more to deter Russia. But militarily it is unlikely to be a game-changer because the number of aircraft isn’t that big and they are inferior to more sophisticated Russian aircraft and could be easy prey for the Russian air force.
Russia has warned that supporting Ukraine’s air force would be seen in Moscow as participating in the conflict and open up suppliers to possible retaliation.
It would also weaken Poland’s own air force at a time of heightened danger in Eastern Europe.
Earlier Tuesday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said his country would stand by Poland if it handed over the jets, noting that it could face the “direct consequence” of its decision.
“And so we would protect Poland, we’ll help them with anything that they need,” Wallace said on Sky News.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who had visited London earlier in the day, insisted at a news conference in Norway after his government announced its decision that “neither Poland or NATO are parties to this war.”
“Decisions on the supply of offensive weapons must be made unanimously at the level of the entire NATO. We cannot take any steps on our own, because we are not a party to this war,” he said.
AP writer Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.