Pentagon Nixes Ukraine Fighter Jets Over Concerns It Will Escalate War

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told his Polish counterpart the United States is not in favor of Poland's plan to transfer MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the Pentagon's press secretary told reporters Wednesday.

The Polish government had said it was prepared to transfer all of its jets to the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where they could then be transferred to Ukrainian forces to help defend against the Russian invasion. It also asked the U.S. to replace the MiG-29s with U.S.-made jets with "corresponding operational capabilities."

However, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said this transfer "provides little increased capability" to Ukraine "at high risk" of escalation with Russia, according to a tweet from Al-Monitor reporter Jared Szuba. Since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine two weeks ago, many Western countries have been walking the line between helping Ukraine and showing aggression toward Russia, using measures such as economic sanctions and humanitarian aid rather than full military assistance.

In a statement Kirby made Tuesday on Twitter, he said the proposal would require fighter jets traveling from a NATO base to airspace contested with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin previously made a statement saying if another nation were to establish a no-fly zone, Russia would take the move as an indication of intent to join the "military conflict." As a result, transferring the jets was deemed too high of a risk.

At the news conference on Wednesday, Kirby said the U.S. does not want to potentially create a "situation that is actually more dangerous to Ukraine, not less," according to Szuba.

Kirby added in his statement on Tuesday that the transfer of the Polish planes is "ultimately one for the Polish government" to make. However, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said any decision to send weapons like these to Ukraine would have to come once NATO unanimously agreed on it.

"This is why we are able to give all of our fleet of jet fighters to Ramstein," Morawiecki said. "But we are not ready to make any moves on our own because…we are not a party to this war."

Just days before, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded with U.S. lawmakers to send more planes to the country or to establish a no-fly zone. Several lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum expressed their support for this, Newsweek previously reported.

However, in his statement, Kirby said, "It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale" for Poland's MiG-29 plan.

"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," he wrote.

Update 03/09/22 5 p.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information.

Bulgaria, MiG-29, jets
The U.S. has reportedly rejected Poland's plan of transferring MiG-29 jets to Ukraine. Above, a Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 is pictured on February 17 in Graf Ignatievo, Bulgaria. Photo by Hristo Rusev/Getty Images