U.S. and Polish officials have had a number of conversations since U.S. officials were caught off guard by Poland’s statement yesterday regarding the supply of fighter jets, an administration official said, adding that the Relations between the two countries remained strong despite the disagreement.
And a senior administration official said supplying Ukraine with MiG fighter jets remains a priority for the administration, even after the United States rejected Poland’s offer to transfer them first to the United States. United States, senior administration officials said.
While the White House was taken by surprise when Poland publicly made its offer, officials do not believe the episode stands in the way of reaching some type of deal that would allow planes to fly to Ukraine.
But at the same time, Tuesday’s disagreement underscores the logistical difficulties that have so far prevented Ukraine from securing the planes. And officials said it was difficult to find a solution to supply the jets and that there were no immediate apparent solutions to facilitate delivery.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the United States was continuing to consult with Poland and other NATO allies on how to provide fighter jets to Ukraine.
“I think what we see is that Poland’s proposal shows that there are certain complexities that the issue presents when it comes to providing security systems. We have to make sure we do it the right way,” Blinken said at a State Department press conference.
There are also a handful of other countries with the jets – including Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria – and officials are not ruling out talks with those countries as they seek a way forward. An official said Ukraine’s initial request was for Poland, as well as these three countries, but Poland was the only country initially willing to consider a possible jet transfer.
Officials describe the problem as twofold: a logistical problem getting planes to Ukraine and a political problem avoiding an escalation with Russia. US officials have described the Polish plan as not adequately addressing both.
An administration official said the United States is concerned that Russia could interpret planes flying to Ukraine from a NATO base as an attack.
Another official said pressure to bring the jets to Ukraine had increased noticeably after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded with US lawmakers to facilitate a transfer during a Zoom call on Saturday morning.
Prior to the call, US officials had downplayed the possibility of helping transfer the MiG planes, which the Ukrainian pilots were trained to fly. Officials said they were mainly focusing on other areas of security assistance, including dispatching anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. The logistical challenges of getting the plane to Ukraine seemed to some officials an unachievable challenge, and they wondered how efficient the planes would be.
But Zelensky’s request on the call, which lawmakers called impassioned, seemed to change the math. Immediately after the session ended, Republicans and Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, voted in favor.
That left the administration no choice but to publicly back the idea, though some officials were skeptical. On Sunday, Blinken said the United States was working with Polish officials to transfer the planes to Ukraine and “populate” them with American jets.
An administration official said bilateral relations between the two countries remained strong and additional U.S. security assistance continued to flow to Ukraine through Poland, including on the last day.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this post.