The San Juan Daily Star
Poland’s president says 4 of its MIG fighters will go to Ukraine ‘literally in the next few days’
By Andrew Higgins
Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, said Thursday that his country would transfer four of its Soviet-designed MIG fighters to Ukraine “literally in the next few days,” which would be the first delivery of jets from a NATO country.
However, any such delivery would still fall short of Ukrainian requests for more advanced F-16 fighter jets from the United States. A White House spokesperson, John Kirby, said that the United States still had no plans to send F-16s to Ukraine and Duda’s pledge had not altered that position.
“It doesn’t change our calculus, with respect to F-16s,” Kirby told reporters in Washington. “It’s not on the table right now.”
Poland first pledged MIG fighters a year ago, in the first weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion, but has so far sent none. The issue of providing Ukraine with warplanes has been a contentious one among the country’s allies, widely seen as a step too far that risked provoking Russia.
Duda made the announcement in Warsaw, after a meeting with the new president of the Czech Republic, Petr Pavel, a retired general and former chair of NATO’s Military Committee. Duda said that the rapid delivery of the four MIGs to Ukraine would be followed “gradually” by more than a dozen others that Poland has in its stocks, once they had been repaired and prepared for combat.
He said that Poland’s air force would replace the jets with FA-50s from South Korea, the first of which are expected to be delivered later this year, and F-35s ordered from the United States.
Polish officials, including Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, had previously said that their country was ready to send Ukraine its entire fleet of MIG-29s — thought to number around 28, but not all operational — but only “within the framework of a larger coalition” of countries that also use the planes. Duda made no mention of any such condition having been met Thursday.
One European defense official familiar with Poland’s plans cautioned that it might still take some time for the MIG jets to be delivered, citing “some formalities” that needed to be completed first. The official said it was expected that Slovakia would also contribute MIG jets to Ukraine.
Poland — which shares a 330-mile border with Ukraine, has taken in more than 1.5 million war refugees and is the main transit route for Western arms flowing into Ukraine — has long lobbied its allies within NATO to send more and better weapons to help Ukrainian forces fight back against Russia. It pressured Germany into agreeing earlier this year to send advanced Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, and sent a handful of its own Leopard tanks to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, last month during a visit there by the Polish prime minister.
But Poland has sometimes run ahead of itself in its eagerness to aid Ukraine.
It said last March that it was ready to send its fleet of MIG-29s to Ukraine, on condition that the United States replace them with more modern U.S.-made jets.
The plan fell apart after Poland abruptly announced that, instead of sending the planes directly to Ukraine, it would send them to a U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, for transfer to Ukraine. Blindsided by a Polish plan it had not been consulted about, Washington dismissed the Ramstein idea as a nonstarter. None of the planes left Poland.
An effort to send MIGs to Ukraine in collaboration with Slovakia, which also uses the Soviet-era warplanes, also stumbled, largely as a result of Slovak political ructions, which led to a successful no-confidence vote in December against the country’s strongly pro-Ukrainian government.
Slovakia’s acting prime minister, Stefan Holy, has said since that this country still wants to send its MIGs to Ukraine, but his opponents insist that no decision be taken until after new elections later this year.