On Thursday Poland pledged to send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the first NATO member to do so, in an important step in the battle for Kiev to resist the Russian offensive.
President Andrzej Duda said the planes – from about a dozen it inherited from the former GDR – would be delivered in the coming days after their service.
“When it comes to the MiG-29, which is still in service in the defense of Polish airspace, a decision has been made at the highest level, we can say with confidence that we are sending MiGs to Ukraine,” Duda said.
Warsaw was a leader among NATO allies in supplying heavy weapons to Kiev. The announcement that Poland would send Soviet-designed aircraft is a step further than the rest of the alliance’s commitments, and could pressure other member states to do the same. Other NATO countries have been reluctant to move beyond a decision earlier this year to send tanks to Kiev, and the United States insisted on Thursday that Poland’s move would not force Washington to do so.
Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw with his new Czech counterpart Petr Pavel, the Polish president expressed the two countries’ mutual support for Cave.
“The Czech Republic and Poland are two countries that are absolutely at the forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine, both on a humanitarian and military level,” said President Duda.
Poland was one of the European countries most vocal against Russia – even before the invasion of Ukraine. Russia is still seen by many in Polish political and diplomatic circles in the context of the Cold War. Warsaw has long viewed Putin as untrustworthy and Russian expansionism as something to fight at all costs. It is one of the few NATO countries that is required by law to meet defense spending commitments of 2% of GDP, and is an active member of the European defense community.
Sending the MiGs is not an unexpected move for Poland and is fully consistent with its membership in NATO. It could change the dynamic within the alliance, acting as a catalyst for more countries to do so, or upset countries that oppose NATO’s further involvement in the conflict such as Hungary.
The bigger question will be whether it will put pressure on the United Kingdom and the United States, which will do the same for Germany. In the end, creating this pressure on the other allies may have been Poland’s intention.
The White House said Thursday that Poland’s decision to send the fighter jets is a “sovereign decision” that will not prompt President Joe Biden to send the F-16s.
“It doesn’t change our calculations regarding the F-16,” said John Kirby, a senior official on the US National Security Council.
“These are sovereign decisions that any country should make and we respect those sovereign decisions,” he said, adding later: “They have to decide not only what they are going to give but how they are going to classify it.”
“I don’t think it’s our place to characterize Poland’s decision one way or the other,” Kirby said, refusing to endorse the resolution.
Biden, who said earlier this year he would not ship US fighter jets to Ukraine, said he would not be affected by Poland’s decision.
German Chancellor Olaf Schultz announced that his country would provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks in January, subject to intense international pressure led by the United States, Poland and a bloc of other European countries, which called on Berlin to intensify its military support and commit to that. Send their desired cars.
That announcement was matched by the United States, with President Joe Biden saying it would provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reflecting the administration’s longstanding resistance to Kiev’s requests for highly advanced but maintenance-heavy vehicles.
In addition to the tanks, Ukraine is also pressing the United States to provide fighter jets, arguing that it needs the planes to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.
But that push has been met with skepticism from US and allied officials, who say the planes would be impractical because they require too much training and Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that it could easily shoot down.
US and European officials have previously told CNN that F-16 fighter jets are impractical in this situation. Germany has ruled out delivering fighter jets to Ukraine altogether while British government officials echoed the same sentiment and said they believed it was not practical to send planes to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Polish authorities announced the arrest of nine people belonging to an alleged spy network on suspicion of “collaboration” with the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said the detainees were “foreigners from across the eastern border”.
“The suspects carried out intelligence activities against Poland and planned acts of sabotage at the request of Russian intelligence,” the minister said.
Kaminsky revealed that the prosecutor’s office charged six people with espionage and participation in an organized criminal group.
He said that the court decided to detain the six persons before the trial, adding that the trial procedures are pending against the three arrested on Wednesday.
Evidence is that the group was watching the railroads. Its tasks include identifying, controlling and documenting arms transfers to Ukraine.
“The suspects were supposed to prepare for sabotage activities aimed at disrupting the supply of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine,” Kamensky said.
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