Rob Portman Questions Logic of Withholding Fighter Jets From Ukraine

Senator Rob Portman questioned Sunday why the U.S. scrapped Poland's proposal to transfer MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, stating that he believes the move is essential for the ongoing war effort.

Portman, a Republican from Ohio, who co-chairs the Senate's Ukraine caucus, told CNN's State of the Union that he is unsure why the U.S. is afraid to send fighter aircraft when it already sent other equipment, such as helicopters and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.

"We have given them helicopters. As recently as January, we provided them U.S. military helicopters," he stated. "Those are directly from the United States. In this case, this would be Poland providing these airplanes, which are Soviet-style planes. There are also two other countries, Slovakia and Bulgaria, that have these airplanes. What we have heard directly from the Ukrainians is they want them badly. They want the ability to have better control over the skies in order to give them a fighting chance."

The senator also rejected the notion that sending fighter jets could escalate tensions with Russia leading to a further conflict in the area.

"The Russians have complained about everything. [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has said that the sanctions are an act of war. They certainly complained when we provided Stingers directly from the U.S. government, which can knock down an airplane and have been successful in doing that at lower altitudes," he said during the interview. "I don't understand why this is any worse than, from a Russian point of view, than other things...that we've already done or that we're talking about."

Rob Portman
Senator Rob Portman questioned on Sunday the U.S. decision not to transfer fighter jets from Poland to aid Ukraine. Above, Portman speaks in Washington, DC, on February 1. BONNIE CASH / POOL / AFP/Getty Images

His comments came after Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said this week that Poland's proposal to transfer the fighter jets to a U.S. air base in Germany in order to help Ukraine was not "tenable."

Kirby said the plan could increase the risk of furthering tensions with Russia, and that the U.S. should instead focus on supplying the nation with anti-armor and air defense systems. Russia has previously warned that supporting Ukraine's air force would be akin to participating in the war.

"It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it," Kirby said in his announcement. "We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents."

However, that announcement came just days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken initially said that Poland received "the green light" from the U.S. to send the planes. Reversing course on the decision sparked confusion in Washington, with Democrats and Republicans questioning the rationale of backing out of the plan.

"I don't understand why we're not doing it. We initially gave it a green light. As you know, last weekend, the secretary of state said it was going to get a green light. And for some reason, now we're blocking it," Portman added on Sunday.