Vice President Kamala Harris refused to address the diplomatic turbulence between Poland and the US Thursday after the Pentagon rejected an offer from the Warsaw government to provide fighter jets to Ukraine — but insisted that the two countries remain unified against Russian aggression.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that the US had turned down Poland’s offer to supply 28 MiG-29 jets via transfer at Ramstein Air Base, despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleading with America and NATO to provide his military with more aircraft.
Harris and Polish President Andrzej Duda both dodged specific questions about the jets at a press conference following their meeting.
“The United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are prepared to do to help Ukraine and the people of Ukraine. Full stop,” Harris said when asked about the US plan, before rattling off examples of American humanitarian and military support.
“I can tell you that the issue facing the Ukrainian people and our allies in the Eastern flank is something that occupies one of our highest priorities. In terms of paying attention to the needs, understanding it’s a dynamic situation, and requires us to be nimble and to be swift,” she said.
The Polish president described the situation as “extremely complicated.”
“We decided to put those jets at the disposal of NATO, not expecting anything in return … We ourselves were ready to provide our equipment free of charge,” Duda said.
“But we wanted NATO as a whole to make a common decision so that Poland remains a credible member of NATO, not a country who decides on its own on important issues which impact security of NATO as a whole, which would impact the security of all members of NATO,” he said.
When asked what other measures the US is taking to aid Ukraine, Harris answered only: “This is an ongoing process and that is not going to stop to the extent there is need.”
At the Pentagon’s Wednesday press briefing, Kirby warned Poland’s offer could cause the war in Ukraine to expand and pull in the US and its NATO allies.
“The intelligence community has assessed the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO,” said the press secretary, who added that the Pentagon had determined the transfer to be “high risk.”
The Polish proposal involved sending the Soviet-era MiGs to the American air base in Germany, from where they would have then been transferred to Ukraine — with the understanding that the US would supply Poland with newer F-16 fighter jets as replacements.
Kirby told reporters the US would continue to supply Ukraine with military equipment but would also weigh every decision to avoid widening and intensifying the conflict.
“It’s certainly not going to be good for the Ukrainian people to have what is already a destructive and terrible war get even more destructive and terrible,” Kirby said.
Ukraine and Western nations have accused Russia of targeting civilians, including shelling hospitals and schools as well as humanitarian convoys of refugees attempting to leave the country.
Zelensky, who has been widely hailed as a hero for rallying his country in defiance of the Russian invasion, blasted the US for shooting down the plan.
“Listen, we have a war,” he told the West during an address to the Ukrainian people. “We do not have time for all this signaling. This is not ping pong, this is about human lives.”
“Solve it faster,” Zelensky added. “Do not shift the responsibility — send us planes.”
Get the latest updates in the Russia-Ukraine conflict with The Post’s live coverage.
Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the head of US European Command, said in a statement Thursday the US believes supplying the MiGs to Ukraine “will not appreciably increase the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force.”
“We believe the most effective way to support the Ukrainian military in their fight against Russia is to provide increased amounts of anti-tank weapons and air defense systems, which is on-going with the international community,” he said. “The Ukrainians are making excellent use of these weapons now.”