The United States was caught off guard Tuesday when Poland announced it was prepared to provide Mig-29 fighter jets under a reported scheme that would eventually send the planes to Ukraine, a US official said.
“I was in a meeting where I ought to have heard about that just before I came (to a Senate hearing), so I think that actually was a surprise move by the Poles,” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told US lawmakers.
Asked by a senator whether US officials coordinated ahead of time with Poland before Warsaw made its announcement, Nuland said: “Not to my knowledge.”
Poland’s foreign ministry said Warsaw was ready to deliver the Mig-29s to the US air base in Ramstein, Germany. A reported deal would then see Warsaw receive F-16 fighters as replacements for the Soviet-era jets that Ukrainian pilots are trained on.
The issue has been a sensitive one in Washington, where members of President Joe Biden‘s administration have deliberated about — but not committed to — such a plan.
US officials including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had downplayed the possibility of any NATO country supplying besieged Ukraine.
But as Blinken, speaking in Moldova Sunday, confirmed it was under active discussion, Nuland refused to commit Washington to supporting or facilitating the exchange.
“I will continue to convey the very strong bipartisan view of this committee that these planes need to get to Ukraine,” she told the panel.
“There are a number of factors to consider here and there are some mixed views among allies and even within the administration.”
Several senators told her it was crucial to rush the jets to Ukraine.
“We would like to see those planes there yesterday,” Senator Ben Cardin said.
“So if there is additional bureaucratic delays in making this available, I think we want to know about it.”
Nuland said a critical issue in the short run for Poland, which borders Ukraine, was that they “benefit from full air security from the NATO alliance.”
In the context of Poland’s proximity to the war, the United States is also “looking at putting some Patriot (missile) batteries into Poland,” she said.