Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States is working on a deal with Poland to supply Ukraine with jets amid Russia’s invasion.
“We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland decide to supply those planes,” he told reporters on Sunday during a visit to Moldova. “I can’t speak to a timeline but I can just say we’re looking at it very, very actively.”
His comments came after Democrat Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in a call on Saturday with US Congress members, asked Washington to facilitate the transfer of used Russian planes from Eastern European allies.
Multiple news outlets, meanwhile, reported that the US and Poland are working together to provide Polish Soviet-era warplanes to Ukraine.
Four US officials told Politico the two governments are working on a deal, with the question of how to transfer the planes being the biggest difficulty in a potential arrangement.
“We are working with the Poles on this issue and consulting with the rest of our NATO allies,” a White House spokesperson told Politico.
“We are also working on the capabilities we could provide to backfill Poland if it decided to transfer planes to Ukraine.”
‘We are not standing in the way’
A US defence official confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that Washington is working with allied nations to provide Ukraine with Russian-made aircraft, adding that the US military would backfill them with American warplanes.
Ukrainian military pilots are trained on Russian-made warplanes.
But The Associated Press news agency reported that there appeared to be a logistical problem in sending F-16s to Poland or other East European allies because of a production backlog.
“These countries would essentially have to give their MiGs to the Ukrainians and accept an IOU from the US for the F-16s. The situation is further complicated because the next shipment of F-16s is set for Taiwan, and Congress would be reluctant to delay those deliveries as it eyes China,” it said.
Zelenskyy also spoke by phone to US President Joe Biden on Saturday, but a White House readout said the two leaders discussed US, allies’ and private industry actions to deter Russia, without mentioning the issue of fighter jets.
On Saturday, Blinken met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the Poland-Ukraine border, saying after the meeting: “We are talking about and working on everything.”
“The entire world stands with Ukraine, just as I am standing here in Ukraine with my friend,” Blinken said.
In his call with the Congress members, Zelenskyy also repeated his plea for a no-fly zone over Ukraine and for the US to stop buying Russian oil, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Ukrainian president previously said the absence of a no-fly zone allowed Russia to continue bombing Ukrainian cities and towns. He has also criticised NATO for refusing to impose the no-fly zone, warning that “all the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Western powers against the no-fly zone, saying it would be seen as a direct step into the military conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Russia unleashed a full-scale invasion of Ukraine late last month, sending shockwaves to the world.
Western countries have hit the Russian economy with crippling sanctions since then, including removing major Russian banking entities from the SWIFT global transfer system.
Many Western states have also helped Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid.