A top White House official confirmed on Sunday that the Biden administration urged against the transfer of fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine because the deal involved the vehicles being transferred through a US airbase on Sunday.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan was speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press and pointed to the potential risks posed by flying offensive weaponry to Ukraine from the US’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
“The cost/benefit analysis did not justify flying fighter planes from a U.S. base in Germany into contested airspace in Eastern Europe,” Mr Sullivan told NBC’s Chuck Todd.
“But [President Joe Biden] also directed us to double down on our effort to get the Ukrainians advanced capabilities that could achieve a similar purpose,” he continued.
Other US officials including military commanders have explained their opposition to the deal by contending that Ukraine’s military does not need additional fighter jet aircraft, a position strongly contested by Ukraine’s own government. A distinction has arisen concerning whether MiG-29 aircraft should be considered offensive or defensive weaponry, given the potential for their use to strike targets in Russia.
Russian officials have meanwhile strongly protested the western effort to supply Ukraine with weaponry and declared that such shipments are legitimate targets in the country’s ongoing invasion of its neighbor.
“The transfer of MiG-29 aircraft will not appreciably increase the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force,” said Gen Tod Wolters, head of US Europe Command. He also contended: “Adding aircraft to the Ukrainian inventory is unlikely to change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities.”
Their statements come into direct conflict with requests from Ukraine’s government, which has pushed the US to supply the country with aircraft or allow other Nato allies to do so.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has also asked Nato to establish a no-fly-zone over his country, which the US has said it will not do citing the risk of direct war with Russia resulting from such a policy.
Mr Zelensky reiterated his request in a recent call with US lawmakers on Capitol Hill last weekend. Congress has largely been a source of bipartisan support for Ukraine’s resistance of the Russian invasion, though some far-right commentators in the media sphere have shown sympathy for the Russian government’s official line on the invasion. A handful of progressive lawmakers on the left have also criticised crippling sanctions that are aimed at damaging Russia’s economy, citing a desire to avoid punishing Russia’s people.
“If you can’t do [a no-fly-zone], at least get me planes,” Mr Zelensky told members of Congress on the call.
Poland’s government had offered to supply more than two dozen Russian-made MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine’s military, but the deal would have required the planes be transferred through the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, meaning that a US base would have been the last stop for so-called offensive weaponry bound for Ukraine.
Mr Sullivan on Sunday also reiterated warnings that other US officials including Pentagon press secretary John Kirby have made in recent days about Russia’s potential use of chemical or biological weapons in the coming days. The Biden administration has stressed that they have seen no hard evidence of such plans in the works but have pointed to statements from Russian officials accusing the US and Ukraine of developing such technology as a likely potential precursor to the deployment of such weapons in combat zones.
“When Russia starts accusing other countries of potentially doing something, it’s a good tell that they may be on the cusp of doing it themselves,” Mr Sullivan said.
He warned that the Biden administration would ensure Russia paid a “severe price” for the use of such banned weaponry.
The White House has largely pursued a campaign of multi-national sanctions and economic measures aimed at crippling Russia’s economy and Vladimir Putin’s inner circle as it continues to politically oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine which has now entered its third week.