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US dismisses Polish plan to provide fighter jets to be sent to Ukraine | Ukraine

The Pentagon has dismissed Poland’s plan to hand the US its MiG-29 fighter jets to boost Ukraine’s fight against Russia, as Moscow officials said they were ready to provide humanitarian corridors on Wednesday morning for people fleeing Kyiv and four other cities.

Washington appeared surprised by the announcement by Polish foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, who said on Tuesday that his government was “ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein airbase and place them at the disposal of the government of the United States of America.”

The Pentagon appeared to reject the proposal, saying it was not “tenable”.

In a statement, the US Department of Defense said the prospect of the jets departing from the base in Germany “to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire Nato alliance”.

“We will continue to consult with Poland and our other Nato allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said.

The dispute came as Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of Russia’s National Defense Control Centre, said Russian forces would “observe a regime of silence” from 7am GMT to ensure safe passage for civilians wishing to leave Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol. It was unclear if the proposed routes would pass through Russia or Belarus, conditions previously opposed by the Ukrainian government.

Authorities in Kyiv have previously accused Moscow of shelling a similar refugee corridor meant to allow residents to escape the devastated port of Mariupol.

“The enemy has launched an attack heading exactly at the humanitarian corridor,” the Ukrainian defense ministry said on Facebook on Tuesday, adding that the Russian army “did not let children, women and elderly people leave the city”. The International Committee of the Red Cross said many Mariupol residents face an “apocalyptic” situation, with no water, power or heating.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister said 5,000 civilians were successfully evacuated from the Sumy region on Tuesday, where 21 people had been killed in air strikes on Tuesday.

The Polish incident has exposed cracks in the Nato alliance which the Biden administration has struggled to keep in lockstep in the face of the Russian invasion. Vice President Kamala Harris is due to hold talks with the Polish government in Warsaw on Thursday where she will attempt to repair some of the diplomatic damage.The US said on Tuesday that it was deploying two of its Patriot antimissile batteries to Poland to help protect Nato troops and territory. The deployment is intended to provide a layer of protection against the Ukraine conflict spilling over the country’s western border.

“This defensive deployment is being conducted proactively to counter any potential threat to US and allied forces and Nato territory,” the US European Command said in a statement.

In other developments:

  • Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reportedly declined to arrange calls with Joe Biden in recent weeks as the US seeks to increase oil supply after formally banning Russian oil imports on Tuesday, pushing oil prices to $130 a barrel, the highest level in 14 years.

  • Venezuela released at least two jailed US citizens on Tuesday, according to multiple sources, in an apparent goodwill gesture. It follows a visit to Caracas by a high-level US delegation that focused not only on the fate of Americans held in Venezuela, but on the possibility of easing US oil sanctions on the Opec member, which is a close Russian ally.

  • The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is no longer transmitting data to the UN’s atomic watchdog, the agency said, as it voiced “deep concern” for staff working under Russian guard at the captured Ukrainian facility. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi voiced fears for nuclear safety and offered to travel to the site.

  • Foreign volunteers will qualify for Ukrainian citizenship, first deputy interior minister Yevhen Yenin said in a TV interview. Nearly 20,000 people from 52 countries have signed up to become volunteers in the war with Russia.

  • More western brands continued to suspend operations in Russia, with Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Pepsi joining McDonald’s in halting sales.

  • Nato’s general secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, warned Russia that any attack on supply lines in Nato countries carrying arms and ammunition to Ukraine would be grounds for retaliation. “An attack on Nato territory, on Nato forces, Nato capabilities, that would be an attack on Nato,” Stoltenberg said.

  • British foreign secretary Liz Truss will meet her US counterpart Antony Blinken in Washington on Wednesday to discuss what more can be done to help Ukraine and reduce energy dependency on Russia. Truss called the invasion of Ukraine “a wake-up call for free democracies”.

Poland is thought to have 28 of the Soviet-era MiG-29 warplanes, and had been in negotiation with the Biden administration on a three-way deal in which Warsaw would gave the plans to Ukraine, on condition that the US would provide the Polish air force with newer US fighters.

“Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” Rau said in a statement on his ministry’s website. “Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the plans.”

Rau requested other Nato allies with MiG-29 jets – a reference to Slovakia and Bulgaria – “act in the same vein”.

By handing them to the US, Poland was hoping to mitigate the risk of direct retaliation from Russia.

However, the US under secretary of state for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, said the Polish announcement had taken Washington unawares, calling it a “surprise move by the Poles”.

“To my knowledge, it wasn’t pre-consulted with us that they plan to give these plans to us,” Nuland told Congress. “I look forward when this hearing is over to getting back to my desk and seeing how we will respond to this proposal of theirs to give the plans to us.”

The idea of ​​donating old warplanes to Ukraine was raised on 27 February by the EU foreign and security policy chief, Josep Borrell, who declared: “We are going to provide even fighter jets.” That announcement annoyed Polish officials, who said Warsaw was not properly consulted over a move that could expose the country to risk.

The Russian defense ministry did not address the issue directly but warned that any country that provided air fields for Ukrainian warplanes that were later used against Russians would be considered by Moscow as being involved in the conflict. Polish thinking is that when the plans are delivered to Ukrainian pilots, they will be taking off from an air base in Germany as US assets.

Poland announced its plan as US officials said the war in Ukraine had reached a pivotal moment, with Russia sustaining severe losses but with Putin determined to press on.

“I think the next couple of days are going to be critical for both the humanitarian situation and also for the tide of this war,” Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told the Guardian .

US intelligence agencies told Congress on Tuesday that they tentatively estimated that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers had been killed so far, but that Putin would persevere in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.

“We assess Putin feels aggrieved the west does not give him proper deference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose,” the US director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, told the House intelligence committee.

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