The Pentagon is likely to supply F-16 combat jets to Poland if it hands over MiG-29s to Ukraine.
NATO rejected Ukraine’s pleas to impose a no-fly zone to halt Russia’s bombing. Its chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would not intervene in the conflict over fears of a direct class with Russia that could spiral into a wider conflict.
“If you can’t do that [institute a no-fly zone], at least get me planes,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reportedly said during a video call with members of the U.S. Congress on Saturday.
Unlike European countries, the Ukrainian Air Force does not operate U.S.-built aircraft such as F-16s, so the Ukrainian pilots will need to undergo requisite training for flying these jets.
Transferring NATO’s current stock of 70-strong MiG-29s would be the fastest and easiest solution to fulfil Ukraine’s immediate and urgent need. Poland, which operate both MiG-29s and F-16s, has mulled the option of donating its Soviet-era fighters, but is hesitant to deplete its own Air Force. The Biden administration has reportedly entered discussions with Poland to look into the possibility of delivering F-16s to solve its problem.
In a statement, U.S. Democratic Senator Dick Durban said, “We must eliminate every obstacle to providing every measure of support to Ukraine to include finding a way for the United States to compensate our Eastern European partners who wish to donate their Soviet-style aircraft to Ukraine.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the government is looking for ways to replenish Poland’s arsenal should the country agree to provide some of its Soviet-era combat jets to Ukraine. “We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland choose to supply those planes,” Blinken said in Moldova, during a stop through Europe to reassure allies there about U.S. support in the wake of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
He added that the U.S. is working with Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials to get an “up-to-the-minute assessment of their needs.”