March 8 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Defense on Tuesday dismissed Poland’s proposal to transfer all of its Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets to a U.S. base in Germany.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said U.S. military officials have been on contact with the Polish government about the proposal made earlier in the day. He said the plan “shows just some of the complexities this issue presents.”
Poland said it wanted to transfer its MiG-29 jets “immediately and free of charge” to the United States, according to a statement released by Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The authorities of the Republic of Poland, after consultations between the president and the government, are ready to deploy — immediately and free of charge — all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the government of the United States of America,” reads the statement.
“The Polish government also requests other NATO allies — owners of MiG-29 jets — to act in the same vein.”
Poland also requests “the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities. Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes.”
Ramstein is a U.S. Air Force base in southwestern Germany, which also serves as the headquarters for the U.S. Air Force in Europe.
The move could be a precursor to the United States allocating the Soviet-era fighter jets to the Ukrainian military to help boost its ability to protect its air space.
But Kirby said such a proposal “raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.”
“It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” Kirby said. “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.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly pleaded for international help in protecting his country’s air space, asking NATO countries to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
“We believe that NATO countries have created a narrative that closing the skies over Ukraine would provoke Russia’s direct aggression against NATO,” Zelensky said in a televised address.
Poland’s move to transfer its approximately 23 MiG-29 lightweight, multi-role fighters is likely a way to side-step its direct involvement. It’s not clear what kind of impact the U.S. military facilitating the planes’ delivery to Ukraine would have.
Poland also operates the Russian-built Sukhoi Su-22 fighter-bomber.
Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told Congress on Tuesday that she’d just learned on the arrangement as she made her way to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. She described the Polish proposal as a “surprise.”
“I was in a meeting where I ought to have heard about that just before I came [to the Hill], so I think that actually was a surprise move by the Poles,” she said.
“I look forward … to getting back to my desk and seeing how we will respond to this proposal of theirs to give the plans to us.”
Ukrainian pilots are mostly trained on Russian aircraft, so any aircraft made by other countries would require additional training. The Polish-owned jets would require minimal training for Ukrainian air force pilots.
Earlier in March, European Union and NATO countries backed off on a plan to transfer Russian-made fighter jets to Ukraine.
Bulgaria and Slovakia also operate small numbers of the aircraft, but have said transferring them to Ukraine would leave them defenseless.