Ukraine has been asking NATO members Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia to donate their Soviet-era MiG-29 and Su fighter aircraft to Ukraine's air force since right after Russia invaded the country Feb. 24. All three countries seem cool to the idea.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told ABC News on Monday that he asked President Biden over the weekend for help protecting Ukrainian skies from Russian rockets, and if a no-fly zone is out, he is sure Biden can get NATO allies to donate their old Soviet jets. Biden's National Security Council staff spent much of the day Saturday trying to figure out a way to facilitate Poland's transfer of MiG-29s, The New York Times reports.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Moldova on Sunday that Poland has the "green light" to give its MiG-29s to Ukraine in return for new U.S. F-16s, which Poland's air force is transitioning to as it modernizes. "We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland can provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland decide to supply those planes," he said.
"As far as sending planes, I can only repeat that no decisions have been taken on the subject," Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller said Sunday.
One of the primary concerns for Poland, Bulgaria, and Slovakia is that they don't draw retaliation from the Kremlin or draw NATO into a direct military conflict with Russia. So the MiGs couldn't be stored on NATO soil, and "it isn't clear if Ukraine would be able to safely house and service them in the long run, given the warfare on its territory," The Associated Press reports. "Another question to resolve would be how to deliver the planes to Ukraine," because Polish pilots can't fly them into the country and having Ukrainian pilots come pick them up would pose similar risks.
"There is also an F-16 production backlog, which means the countries that potentially give away their MiGs and Su fighters to Ukraine would need to wait for the backfill for some time," AP reports. To make things even "more complicated," the Times adds, "many of those fighters are promised to Taiwan — where the United States has greater strategic interests."
"I can't speak to a timeline, but I can just tell you we're looking at it very, very actively," Blinken said Sunday.