Why Poland and NATO have not agreed on the transfer of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine

11 March 2022, 06:45 PM

The Polish government fears Russian aerial retaliation if they transfer fighter jets to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, while the United States says that 70 fighter jets will not give Kyiv a significant advantage in the sky.

Since the beginning of the war, Ukraine’s top leaders, together with diplomats, have been trying to facilitate the transfer of 70 Soviet-style MiG-29 and Su-25 fighter jets to the Ukrainian Air Force. These aircraft have remained in service in Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia – some of Ukraine’s closest neighbors of Ukraine, and NATO member states. After a series of emotional statements from Kyiv and Warsaw, on March 9, Washington finally rejected the transfer of Polish fighter jets to Ukraine.

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According to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, the United States believes that instead of aircraft, it is better to transfer defensive weapons to Kyiv: hand-held anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems. Kirby said that the Pentagon believes that the Ukrainian Air Force has several squadrons of combat-ready aircraft at its disposal, meaning that additional aircraft would not significantly change the effectiveness of the Air Force relative to Russian capabilities. In addition, U.S. intelligence agencies believes that the transfer of the MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine could lead to a serious Russian reaction and possibly a military escalation with the NATO alliance.

Kyiv needs to strengthen its capabilities in the air in order to more effectively intercept enemy planes bombarding peaceful cities, as well as more actively attack enemy columns of military hardware.

NV has attempted to discover what happened inside the alliance on the transfer of aerial hardware to Ukraine, and why NATO member states have been reluctant to provide Ukraine with the tools it needs to counter Russian air assets.


On Feb. 28, Ukraine officially announced that Ukrainian pilots had arrived in Poland to receive military aircraft from EU partners. This announcement referred to Soviet fighter jets, such as MiG-29s, on which Ukrainian pilots have already been trained to fly. The announcement even specified how many aircraft Ukraine would receive: 28 MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland, 12 from Slovakia and 16 from Bulgaria, as well as 14 Su-25 fighter jets from Bulgaria.

“If necessary, they can be based on Polish airfields, from which Ukrainian pilots will carry out combat missions,” the command of the Ukrainian Army’s Air Force stated. This news quickly made the rounds. And just as quickly, the Foreign Ministries of Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia refuted it.

Later, the United States stated that it was not against Poland transferring aircraft to Ukraine on its own. In Warsaw, however, this position was considered a desire to strengthen Kyiv at the expense of Polish security.

On March 8, the Polish Foreign Ministry stressed its readiness to transfer aircraft to the United States at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Polish government urged Romania and Slovakia to do the same, but the U.S. Department of State explained that Warsaw’s proposal took them by surprise.

Marek Świerczyński, the senior security analyst at Polish business intelligence firm Polityka Insight, told the Polish TOK FM radio station that Poland’s position, in diplomatic terms, was called “a hit on the table.” According to him, the statement necessitated reading between the lines: in this case, “take these planes and transfer them yourself.”

Świerczyński emphasized that the dialogue between the Poles and the Americans on the transfer of aircraft to Ukraine ended on this statement. If a plan to transfer jets to Ukraine really existed, everything that happened afterwards was a failure for all interested parties.

In addition to this strife within NATO, Świerczyński names another reason for the failure – excessive coverage of the topic by the Ukrainian side.

“NATO does not want this (the transfer of aircraft) for purely political reasons, since the politicians in Brussels are more influential than the military even at NATO headquarters. The transfer of aircraft (by Poland) to the procurement agency (DARPA) is another matter: this is a purchase by one of the partners for necessary stuff in the NATO supermarket,” said Viktor Kevlyuk, an expert at Ukrainian defense think tank Center for Defense Strategies, and a reserve colonel.

According to Kevlyuk, the dilemma of Warsaw and Washington is that the direct supply of aircraft by one side or the other, in their understanding, will mean drawing them into the war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could not refrain from commenting on the indecision of NATO countries: “Listen: we are at war! It’s not ping-pong! It’s about human lives! We ask you again – resolve this as soon as possible. Do not shift responsibility away from yourselves, but send us planes.”

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Świerczyński explains that the Poles’ desire not to transfer planes to Ukraine on behalf of Poland is understandable.

“Warsaw does not want to endanger itself,” he wrote in his column.

According to him, while “troubles in NATO ranks” continued, Moscow “struck” by announcing that it would consider any increase in Ukrainian air capabilities by a foreign power “NATO aggression and a pretext for war,” so the Alliance and Warsaw “put the brakes on.”

Polish political scientists Maciej Kisilowski and Anna Wójcik, in a column for NV, wrote that Russia’s attack on Ukraine should be a wake-up call for the elites of the Central European members of NATO and the rest of the Alliance.

In addition to additional U.S. troop deployments to Poland in early February, the United States urgently decided to send Patriot air defense systems to Poland from Germany, to the border with Ukraine. The Pentagon explained the decision as a preventive measure, due to the war in Ukraine.

According to Świerczyński, the appearance of Patriot air defense systems in Poland proves that the Pentagon is serious about the Russian threat of an air attack. However, he believes that these anti-missile systems will not be able to protect Poland from an attack if Putin finds an excuse to attack Warsaw over the transfer of aircraft.

NATO activity on the eastern flank is gradually being felt by Polish society, Konstanty Chodkowski, an editor of a news portal in the city of Pruszków, near Warsaw, told NV. According to him, at the everyday level, the Poles are frightened by the war in Ukraine and are actively discussing the possibility of a Russian nuclear strike on Warsaw.


“Kyiv needs to continue pressure on Washington to get the planes. After all, we’ve received a lot of different weapons from them,” Vasyl Myroshnychenko, an international policy specialist, told NV. He adds that perhaps this issue will move forward in the future and NATO will find a “creative solution.”

Kevlyuk in turn summarizes: Ukraine should rely on its own forces and not expect anything that is not provided for by previous agreements.

Meanwhile, the President’s Office is unofficially urging the media to be cautious about news like fighter jet transfers, to avoid providing the enemy with reasons to put pressure on NATO countries.

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