UK to back Poland’s choice on military jet supplies to Ukraine
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has reassured Poland that Britain will support it, “whatever choice” Warsaw makes with respect to handing over military aircraft to the Ukrainian government. The UK official, however, warned that the move could possibly mean military confrontation between Warsaw and Moscow.
Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, Wallace noted that London itself could not provide Kiev with the kind of jets that Ukrainian pilots can operate. However, according to the defense secretary, Poland is in a position to do so, and should it start handing over war planes to Ukraine, Britain “would protect Poland” and “help them with anything that they need.”
Wallace went on to say that “Poland will understand that the choices they make will not only directly help Ukraine,” but also possibly “bring them into direct line of fire from countries such as Russia or Belarus.”
Since Russia launched its military offensive on February 24, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been calling on Western allies to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, or at least provide Kiev with fighter jets.
While NATO has made it clear that it will not be drawn into direct confrontation with Russia by attempting to close Ukrainian airspace, there have been media reports suggesting that certain Eastern European nations may prop up the Ukrainian Air Force with Soviet-made fighter jets.
On February 27, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, suggested that the bloc could supply Ukraine with EU-funded military aircraft. A few days later, Borrell acknowledged that Brussels did not have sufficient financial means to pay for the fighter jets. According to reports, however, he informally approached Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania, asking them to donate war planes to Ukraine on a bilateral basis. Politico claims EU member states were not impressed by Borrell’s initiative, as the scheme had not even been agreed on.
Several Ukrainian officials went on to allege that pilots had arrived in Poland, with the EU prepared to donate a total of 70 fighter jets, as the Ukrainian parliament claimed.
However, soon thereafter, leaders of the Eastern European nations which had supposedly agreed to hand over fighter jets to Ukraine issued rebuttals.
Bulgaria’s prime minister, Kiril Petkov, cited the lack of operational fighter jets in its own air force, adding that Sofia was not in a position to donate any to other countries.
Slovakia’s Ministry of Defense also denied that it had any such plans.
Polish President Andrzej Duda, as well, said his country was “not going to send any jets to the Ukrainian airspace,” as the move “would open a military interference in the Ukrainian conflict.”
Nevertheless, some reports have claimed that the US is working on a deal with Poland in which Washington would promise to replace Soviet-made MiG-29 jets with F-16s, should Warsaw agree to hand over the former to Kiev.
Appearing on CBS’ ‘Face the Nation’ on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed to confirm these media reports, saying the US was “talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians.”
Russia’s Defense Ministry, in turn, warned Romania and Poland over the weekend that they could end up drawn into the war if they host Ukrainian combat planes that attack Russian forces.
Russia launched a military offensive against Ukraine in late February, with President Vladimir Putin naming the “demilitarization and denazification” of the country as the operation’s main objectives. He also claimed that the Ukrainian government was carrying out “genocide” of the Russian speaking population of the Donbass republics. Ukraine and its Western allies have dismissed this as a pretext for what they call “unprovoked” aggression against a sovereign state.