The U.S. rejected a Polish proposal to take possession of Soviet-era fighter jets and transfer them to Ukraine to help it fend off Russia’s invasion, a Pentagon spokesman said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Polish counterpart Wednesday that “we do not support the transfer of additional fighter aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force at this time and therefore have no desire to see them in our custody either,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.
The U.S. military deemed the Polish proposal “high risk” and assessed that it wouldn’t “significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities,” Mr. Kirby said.
The U.S. intelligence community assessed that transferring the aircraft “may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO,” he said.
The U.S. rejection of the Polish proposal marks one of the first public signs of tensions within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance since Russia’s invasion began two weeks ago.
The Russian military is making “moderate progress” in its assault on Ukraine, moving forward in the northeast and parts of the south, a senior defense official said, the first time the Pentagon has described seeing Russian movement in the north in more than a week.
Russian forces have moved closer to the northern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv and are approaching the capital, Kyiv. In the south, they also have made advances, the official said, adding that they are still meeting “stiff resistance” throughout the country by Ukrainian forces and civilians fighting back.
Ukrainian officials have been asking for advanced weaponry to fight Russian forces for months, and the idea of providing combat planes surfaced publicly late last month.
On Tuesday, the Polish government said it was “ready to deploy—immediately and free of charge” its MIG-29 aircraft to Ukraine in exchange for comparable American fighter jets. The Soviet-era aircraft would be flown to the U.S.’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where they would be at U.S. disposal to transport to Ukraine, Poland’s Foreign Ministry said.
The Polish proposal surprised U.S. officials, who had been discussing ways to get Soviet-era aircraft from the Polish fleet to the Ukrainians who know how to operate them.
U.S. defense officials, however, have been skeptical that more airpower is a decisive need for Ukraine. The U.S. has said Russian artillery strikes have been among its most effective types of attack during its invasion of Ukraine. The Russians have launched at least 710 missiles on Ukraine, half from inside the country, the senior defense official said Wednesday.