Pentagon Accused of 'Tepid Fear' as Ukraine Fighter Jets Plan Collapses

The Pentagon was accused of acting with "tepid fear" after it rejected Poland's offer to transfer its Russian-made fighter jets to a U.S. military base.

The Polish government on Tuesday said it was prepared to transfer all of its MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Those planes could then be turned over to Ukrainian pilots trying to fend off Russian forces.

In turn, Poland asked the U.S. to replace the MiGs with U.S.-made jets possessing "corresponding operational capabilities."

But the Pentagon quickly dismissed the surprise announcement as not "tenable."

In a statement, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the proposal raised the worrying prospect of warplanes departing from a U.S. and NATO base to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia. Moscow has declared that supporting Ukraine's air force would be tantamount to joining the war.

"It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it," Kirby said. "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."

The decision prompted criticism from Republican and Democrat lawmakers, who urged the Biden administration to reverse course.

"This is an utterly insane and unbelievable response from the Pentagon. The US Government must reverse course on this," Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a military veteran, said on Twitter.

"We cannot win this war from a position of tepid fear. Ukraine fights for us all, we can give them the tools. Thank you to #poland."

Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat and Air Force veteran, tweeted: "Dear @DeptofDefense: Respectfully, your rationale makes no sense.

"You're fine with MiGs departing from a Polish base into contested Ukrainian airspace but not from a U.S. base in Germany? All are NATO countries. And it's Ukrainians who would be flying the jets. Just get it done."

The lawmakers and the Pentagon have been contacted for comment.

Retired US Marine Colonel Brendan Kearney, told the BBC that he was "perplexed" with the Polish government's approach.

"Ukrainian pilots could literally walk across the border into Poland and fly them back into Ukraine," he said. That "seems like a much easier, much smarter move," he added.

"The long-term ultimate goal of getting additional MiG-29s into Ukrainian hands is a noble one, it's a good one, but we've got to have people sitting down who know what they're talking about and coming up with a plan that is executable," he said.

White House officials were reportedly blindsided by the Polish government's announcement on Tuesday. The proposal did not come up during talks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his recent visit to Poland, said an anonymous U.S. official familiar with the talks.

Blinken said on Sunday that the U.S. was "looking actively" with Poland at plans to supply Ukraine with fighter jets, and to "back fill" Poland's needs.

But the Polish government made it clear that it would not send its fighter jets directly to Ukraine or allow its airfields to be used.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been calling for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine or provide Ukraine with fighter jets. But NATO has refused to impose a no-fly zone, saying such a move could provoke an escalated war with Russia.

Follow our live blog for updates on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

MiG-29 fighter jets during air show
Two Polish Air Force Russian-made MiG-29s fly above and below two Polish Air Force U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets during an air show in Radom, Poland, on Aug. 27, 2011. Alik Keplicz/AP Photo, File