Considered by many to be a relic of the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization seemingly emerged as a strengthened and unified alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Various NATO member nations have since offered large amounts military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine to bolster the European nation in its fight against Russia. In an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave the “green light” to Polish allies in sending fighter planes to Ukraine. This week, however, Poland’s public proposal to involve the United States in a transfer of aircrafts met with a resounding “no” from its trans-Atlantic partner.
In what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki referred to as a “temporary breakdown in communication,” Poland publicly announced the planned transfer of Soviet-era planes via the United States. Poland’s foreign ministry suggested plans to send MiG-29 jets to a U.S. air base in Germany for the United States to then coordinate delivery to Ukraine. This, Poland did without apparent consultation with the United States, creating the appearance of disagreement among NATO allies as the United States was quick to decline Poland’s offer.
The United States considers such a move to be a “high risk” step that could lead to unnecessary escalation with Russia, as based on reports from the intelligence community. Department of Defense spokesperson John Kirby expressed gratitude on Wednesday for “superb support and cooperation of our Polish allies who continue to host thousands of our troops.” He added that the United States will continue to consider alternate and more effective means of supporting Ukraine, as Russia has yet to achieve air superiority. “The best way to support Ukrainian defense is by providing them the weapons and the systems that they need most to defeat Russian aggression; in particular, anti-armor and air defense,” Kirby said.
The administration’s decision met with harsh criticism from some, however. Transatlantic relations expert Michal Baranowski hailed Poland’s plan to provide Ukraine with MiG-29 fighters as a “good idea,” and stated the decision should be made by NATO as a whole, rather than Poland alone. Forty Republican senators together expressed strong disagreement with President Biden’s decision and implored the White House to “facilitate the transfer of aircraft, air defense systems, and other capabilities by and through our NATO partners immediately.”
While Poland remains a valuable ally and NATO partner, its announcement this week apparently caught the United States off-guard. Any fall-out from the “temporary breakdown in communication” reveals the potential for disunity in the alliance as it continues to engage in a response of deterrence to Russian aggression.