Poland on Thursday pledged it would send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the first NATO member to do so, in a significant move in Kyiv’s battle to resist Russia’s onslaught.
Thursday’s announcement comes after NATO allies agreed earlier this year to send modern Western battle tanks to Ukraine. President Andrzej Duda’s announcement that Poland will send the Soviet-designed planes could now put pressure on other countries in the alliance to provide fighter jets.
“We can say confidently that we are sending MiGs to Ukraine,” Duda told reporters. “We have a dozen or so MiGs that we got in the 90s handed down from the German Democratic Republic and they are functional and play a part in the defense of our airspace. They are at the end of their operational life but are still functional,” Duda added.
Poland had been one of the most vocal European nations against Russia – even before the invasion of Ukraine. Russia is still seen by many in Poland’s political and diplomatic circles in a Cold War context. Putin has always been seen by Warsaw as untrustworthy and Russia expansion is something to be fought against at all costs. It is one of the few NATO countries that by law is required to meet its 2% of GDP defense spending commitment and is an active member of the European defense community.
While sending MiGs is a break from the alliance, it is not an unexpected move and complies entirely with Poland’s membership of NATO. It might change the dynamic within the alliance, acting as a catalyst for more countries to do so, or upset countries that are opposed to NATO getting more involved in the conflict like Hungary.
The biggest question will be if it puts pressure on the United Kingdom and the United States, which will then do the same for Germany. Ultimately, creating this pressure on other allies was probably Poland’s intention.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his country would provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks in January, bowing to intensifying international pressure, led by the United States, Poland and a bloc of other European nations, which called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their sought-after vehicles.
The announcement was matched by the US, with President Joe Biden saying that he would provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing the administration’s longstanding resistance to requests from Kyiv for the highly sophisticated but maintenance-heavy vehicles.
In addition to tanks, Ukraine has also been pushing for the US to provide fighter jets, arguing that it needs the planes to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.
But that push has been met with skepticism by US and allied officials, who say the jets would be impractical because they require considerable training and Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that could easily shoot them down.
US and European officials have previously told CNN that F-16 fighter jets were impractical in this situation. Germany ruled out fighter jet deliveries to Ukraine completely while UK government officials echoed the sentiment and said that they believed it was not practical to send jets into Ukraine.