Last minute surprise: the Polish government has decided to rectify its decision of a week ago and announces that it could transfer all its MiG-29 to the US.
The decision was announced by Łukasz Jasina, spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry, at 19:40 CET on Tuesday, linking to the following official statement from that Ministry:
"The authorities of the Republic of Poland, after consultations between the President and the Government, are ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MIG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.
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 Government also requests other NATO Allies – owners of MIG-29 jets – to act in the same vein."
The Polish Air Force currently has 23 single-seat MiG-29A and 6 two-seat MiG-29UB fighters for training. Of the MiG-29s operated so far by Poland, 12 were purchased from the USSR during the Polish communist dictatorship. Another 10 (9 single-seaters and a two-seater) were bought from the Czech Republic in 1995, and 22 more were bought from Germany in 2002 (exemplary that came from the GDR), being bought at the symbolic price of one euro each. Of those 44 fighters in total, 4 were lost in as many accidents, with another 11 aircraft being withdrawn from service due to their age.
Poland had planned to replace its remaining MiG-29 with Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II: in 2020 it bought 32 of these fighters, but the first units will be delivered in 2025. In order to supply the MiG-29, there was talk of delivering Second-hand American F-16s to Poland, since it is a fighter already used by their Air Force.
According to the Polish media DoRzeczy.pl, this Tuesday, at a press conference offered by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, he was asked about the possible delivery of fighters to Ukraine and declared: "Decisions on the supply of offensive weapons must be taken unanimously at the level of the entire NATO. We cannot take any steps on our own as we are not part of this war. It must be emphasized that neither Poland nor NATO are parties to this war."
On March 1, the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Duda denied the information published by Ukraine about the delivery of Polish fighters and the use of Polish bases by Ukrainian fighters: "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 humanity aid. However, we are not going to send any jets to the Ukrainian airspace."
The announcement made this Tuesday by the Polish government is a 180 degree turn. The delivery of the MiG-29s to the US through a German air base could be a way to avoid a head-on clash between Poland and Russia. However, now the main problem remains to be solved for Ukraine to have these planes: how will they be delivered? Their takeoff and direct flight to Ukraine from a NATO base could be considered a casus belli by Russia, and its delivery by land is unlikely with roads clogged with refugees.
The US response to the Polish government's announcement
+ UPDATED 9.3.2022 0:47 am: John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, has just published a Twitter thread (here a copy on archive.ph) in which he states that "the decision about whether to transfer Polish-owned planes to Ukraine is ultimately one for the Polish government" and that "Poland’s proposal shows just some of the complexities this issue presents." Specifically, it states: "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."
Kirby adds: "It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it. We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one."
It seems that the US government wants Poland to bear the cost and risks of the operation alone, and has not even found a solution for the possible delivery of the fighters. The Biden administration does not seem to understand that a country like Poland cannot take on this challenge alone, and even less so when it has already provided a lot of military aid to Ukraine and is already hosting more than a million refugees from that country.
Photo: Wojsko Polskie.
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