March 25, 2023

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

The Polish president says that his country plans to give Ukraine about 12 MiG-29 fighter jets

President Andrzej Duda said that Poland would deliver four Soviet-made warplanes “within the next few days” and that the rest needed services and would be provided later. The Polish word I use to describe the total number can mean between 11 and 19.

“They are in their last years of operation, but they are in good working order,” Duda said of the plane.

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

Polish government spokesman Piotr Mueller said on Wednesday that some other countries had pledged to provide MiGs to Kiev, but he did not name them. Poland and Slovakia have both indicated that they are willing to surrender their aircraft, but only as part of a broader international coalition that does the same.

The government of neighboring Germany, a NATO member, seemed surprised by Duda’s announcement.

“So far, everyone has agreed that it is not the right time to send fighter jets,” German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters. “I don’t have any confirmation from Poland yet that this will happen.”

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The White House described Poland’s provision of Ukrainian fighter jets as a sovereign decision and praised the Poles for continuing to “beat above their weight” in helping Kiev.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said: “There is no change in our view regarding combat aircraft at this time.” This is our sovereign decision. This is where we are, other countries can talk about their “decisions”.

Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine had dozens of MiG-29s that it inherited in the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it is unclear how many remain in service after more than a year of fighting.

The debate over whether to supply Ukraine, a non-NATO member, with fighter jets began last year, but NATO allies have expressed concern about the alliance’s escalating role in the war. The indecision continued even as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made increasingly vocal pleas to Western supporters to share their warplanes.

Duda’s announcement came 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 FA-50 fighters and US-made F-35s.

Poland provided crucial support to Ukraine during the war. It hosts thousands of American troops, and it has taken in more Ukrainians than any other country during the mass exodus of refugees triggered by the Russian invasion.

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The Central European country has seen Russian invasions and occupations for centuries and still fears Russia despite being a NATO member.

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