08 March 2022 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News
08 March 2022 | Patrick Wintour | The Guardian
Before the announcement that it would put all its MIG-29 at the US’ disposal, Poland came under pressure from the UK to go ahead with the deal.
The issue was discussed by the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki with Boris Johnson at a meeting in London that also saw the start of discussions about a long term reconstruction plan for Ukraine.
Johnson supports the transfer of the MiGs to Ukraine but in public, London stresses that it is a sovereign decision for Warsaw to take since in the words of the UK defence secretary Ben Wallace, Poland is most likely to face any “blowback” from Russia.
Poland had publicly opposed the move, saying it would likely be seen as a dangerous escalation by Russia, but was apparently happy to go ahead if the proposal was backed by Nato and the US provided replacement American F-16 fighter planes.
The Polish prime minister was in London to meet Johnson alongside the prime ministers of Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, the so-called V4 group inside the EU .
The V4 countries have taken three quarters of the 2m Ukrainians that have poured into the European Union, including more than 1m in Poland alone. Nearly half are children placing strains on the 4 countries education systems if the refugees feel unable to return in the short term
There are clear differences between the approach to the conflict between Hungary and the other V4 states. Orban, close to Vladimir Putin but critical of his invasion, had rejected further Nato troops on Hungarian soil, and refused to send arms to Ukraine. He had also derided sanctions against Russia as an ineffective policy tool, but has not used his veto to block EU measures.
By contrast, Morawiecki called for further sanctions, and his government supports a full block on Russian energy imports into Europe.
“We can dismantle Putin’s war machine only by means of very strong and firm sanctions,” he said.
Speaking after the meeting Orban said he opposed an EU energy boycott of Russia saying “the price of war should not be paid by ordinary Hungarian families.
Most of the oil and gas coming into the country comes from Russia and 90% of Hungarian families heat their homes with gas.
Without oil and gas the Hungarian economy simply cannot function. If we were to end energy cooperation with Russia, the energy bills of every Hungarian family would triple in a single month”.
Orban is facing elections next month and is trying to downplay his past support for Putin, and the way in which he allowed his economy to become so dependent on Russian energy.
The US is saying the problems are logistical. Others are not so sure.
Photo: Polish Air Force Mig-29 aircrafts perform during a military parade celebrating the Polish Army Day in Warsaw, Poland on Aug. 15, 2015. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)
WASHINGTON ― The White House and Pentagon on Monday downplayed the likelihood of a three-way deal for Poland to give MiG-29 aircraft to Ukraine and for the U.S. to backfill the Polish fleet with American F-16 fighters.
The cautious remarks from U.S. officials on Monday, with signals from Warsaw there would be no deal, are a blow to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksky, who pleaded with U.S. lawmakers in a Zoom call Saturday for more military planes and support as his country fights a Russian invasion.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday the administration is not opposing such a deal, but said there are significant logistical challenges.
“It is not as easy as just moving planes around,” Psaki said.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby sought to temper expectations as well, telling reporters “we’re very early on in a discussion here about what the possibility could” and it’s “not a done deal at this point.” It’s unclear how many U.S. aircraft would be involved or how they would be transported, he said.
“It’s just a discussion about the possibility of should there be a nation that would want to give aircraft and would ask for a backfill from the United States,” Kirby said in describing the talks. “Should that happen, what would that look like, how would we do that? We don’t have all the answers right now.”
On Saturday, the Polish government labeled claims it had or will provide its MiGs to Ukraine as “fake news.” A Polish Armed Forces General Command tweet replied to one claim, saying, “All the Polish Air Force #MiG29 aircraft remain at their home bases.”
The chancellery of the Polish prime minister said in a tweet: “Poland won’t send its fighter jets to #Ukraine as well as allow [it] to use its airports. We significantly help in many other areas.”
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would give “the green light” to NATO countries if they choose to provide fighter jets to Ukraine. He noted talks with Poland were underway.
Multiple U.S. lawmakers have pressed the administration to facilitate the aircraft deal, with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J., saying he would “support efforts in the Senate to implement measures to compensate our allies that provide their aircraft for Ukraine’s defense.
“I understand this is not an easy decision for these countries to make,” Menendez said in a statement. “Asking them to provide their own aircraft, especially as Russia’s military aggression edges closer to their own borders, would be unthinkable except in the direst circumstances. Unfortunately, that is the situation the world faces. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and sacrifices.”
Poland’s 94 combat-capable aircraft include 48 F-16 fighters it began to acquire from the U.S. in 2006 and 28 MiG-29s it acquired earlier that are decades older. How ready the Polish MiG-29s are at present could impact a potential deal, said aviation expert Richard Aboulafia, the managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory.
“Those are very old planes, and the Polish air force has been prioritizing F-16s for years,” Aboulafia said.
Beyond the question of whether Poland’s older MiG-29s need fixing, it could take time to strip sensitive NATO-linked electronics and avionics from them, if they’re to be transferred to Ukraine, said William Alberque, a former NATO arms control official now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“You’re either taking a fighter they don’t need and doing an overhaul, which takes time and replacement of parts, or you’re taking a frontline aircraft that’s needed for different purposes,” Alberque said. “No Polish military or politician will want to say ‘We’re giving a bunch of planes to Ukraine and we’re a little less safe now,’ but if they can leverage it, I’d rather have a refurbished F-16 than a MiG-29 any day of the week.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.