Speed Reads

Hot Potato

U.S. calls Poland's surprise public offer to route MiG-29s to Ukraine through a U.S. airbase 'not tenable'

Ukraine wants more fighter jets to help its outmatched air force battle Russian invaders, and the U.S. and Europe want Ukraine to have dozens of donated MiG-29s, but nobody seems ready to take on the risks and responsibilities of getting them into Ukraine's hands. Poland caught U.S. officials off guard on Tuesday by publicly offering to send its MiG-29s to a U.S. airbase in Germany and let the U.S. figure out how to get the jets to Ukraine, and the U.S. quickly said that "proposal is not a tenable one."

"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," Pentagon spokesman Jack Kirby said in a statement. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland told lawmakers on Tuesday she heard about Poland's offer "as I was literally driving here today," instead of a meeting she had just left where she "ought to have heard about" it.

The U.S. and Poland have been discussing giving the Poles U.S. F-16s to replace the donated MiG-29s, which Ukrainian pilots can already fly, but Polish officials were frustrated with how forward-leaning the U.S. was on the subject, two European diplomats told CNN.

"Any MiG transfer is fraught with complications," because "neither NATO nor the European Union wants to be seen as directly involved in such a transaction, which would sharply raise already extreme tensions with Russia," The Associated Press reports

The U.S. and Poland have been discussing options to sidestep direct involvement, and one of them starts with Poland transferring the fighter jets to the U.S. base in Germany, "where they would be repainted and flown to a non-NATO, non-EU country," possibly Kosovo, AP reports. "Ukrainian pilots would then come to fly them to Ukraine." 

Presumably, these discussions could be had over secure phone lines or in person, not over Twitter and in press releases. In fact, "other countries that are in talks with the U.S. about taking part in similar transfers are conducting the conversations quietly, without raising expectations," CNN reports, citing a Central European diplomat.

Ukraine's biggest military request is more air-defense capabilities, either surface-to-air missiles or fighter jets, AP reports. A senior U.S. defense official said additional anti-aircraft Stinger missiles would probably be more useful than MiGs.