Poland becomes the first NATO member to donate fighter jets to Ukraine

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland said Thursday it plans to give Ukraine about a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets, making it the first NATO member to comply with Kiev’s increasingly pressing requests. for fighter jets to defend against the Russian invasion.

Warsaw will hand over four of the Soviet-made warplanes “within days,” President Andrzej Duda said, and the rest required maintenance but would be delivered later. The Polish word he used to describe the total number could mean between 11 and 19.

“They are in their final years of operation, but they are in good condition,” Duda said.

He did not say whether other countries would follow suit, although Slovakia has said it would send its own decommissioned MiGs to Ukraine. Poland was also the first NATO country to supply Ukraine with German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

On Wednesday, Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller told some other countries had also promised MiGs to Kiev, but failed to identify them. Both Poland and Slovakia had indicated their willingness to hand over their aircraft, but only as part of a wider international coalition doing the same.

The government in neighboring NATO member Germany seemed taken aback by Duda’s announcement.

“So far everyone agrees that now is not the time to send fighter jets,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters. “I have not yet received confirmation from Poland that this has happened.”

The White House called Poland’s move a sovereign decision and praised the Poles for continuing to “stretch above their weight” in helping Kiev, but stressed that the move would not affect President Joe Biden, who has resisting calls to provide US F-16s. to Ukraine.

“There is no change in our view on combat aircraft at this time,” said John Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesman. “That is our sovereign decision. That’s where we are, other nations can make their own decisions.

The White House said Poland informed the US of its decision to supply MiGs before Duda announced the move.

Before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine had several dozen MiG-29s it inherited during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but it is unclear how many are still in service after more than a year of fighting.

The debate started last year asking whether Ukraine, a non-NATO member, should get fighter jets, but NATO allies expressed concern over the escalation of the alliance’s role in the war. The hesitation continued even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made increasingly vocal pleas for Western supporters to share their fighter jets.

Duda made the announcement during a joint press conference in Warsaw with visiting Czech President Petr Pavel.

Duda said the Polish Air Force would replace the planes it gives to Ukraine with South Korean-made FA-50 fighters and US-made F-35s.

Poland provided vital support to Ukraine during the war. It hosts thousands of US troops and has taken in more Ukrainians than any other country during the refugee exodus following the Russian invasion.

The Central European nation has lived through centuries of Russian invasions and occupations and still fears Russia despite being a NATO member.

___ Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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