Though the idea of NATO members donating combat aircraft to replenish Ukraine’s embattled air force in the war against Russia was floated just days after the invasion began, officials quickly shelved the proposal as it could escalate tensions further and risk nuclear conflict.
But on March 6, speaking to CBS News’ Face the Nation, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed to reverse course, saying that Washington was working on a deal to replace Polish Soviet-built jets with U.S.-made fighters in case Warsaw wanted to send the former to the Ukrainians.
“We continue to see President Putin doubling down and digging in on his aggression against Ukraine. And I think we have to be prepared, unfortunately, tragically, for this to go on for some time,” he told host Margaret Brennan in response to her query about how sanctions had not gotten the Kremlin to stop its invasion.
NATO and U.S. President Joe Biden have stressed that they would not send troops or take military action in Ukraine, which is not a member of the Cold War-era alliance.
“What more can the U.S. do here, if, for instance, the Polish government — a NATO member — wants to send fighter jets, does that get a green light from the U.S., or are you afraid that will escalate tension?” Brennan then asked.
“No, that gets a green light, in fact we are talking with our Polish friends right about now about what we might be able to do to backfill their needs if, in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians,” the state secretary responded.
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has warned that his country was prepared to use nuclear weapons against NATO or any other third party that interferes with their “special military operation” in Ukraine.
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The Kremlin began the invasion early in the morning of Feb. 24, after years of demanding that NATO make guarantees not to admit Ukraine to the U.S.-led bloc. In 2014, Russia had annexed the peninsula of Crimea, which is primarily home to Russian speakers, and funded separatists in Ukraine’s eastern region, another heavily Russophone area.
Putin has presented the conflict as an existential crisis for Russia, saying that the expansion of NATO would mean foreign dominance not just in Ukraine, but in Russia as well.
Polish officials earlier in the day had denied that they were planning to send aircraft to Ukraine.
“Poland won’t send its fighter jets to #Ukraine as well as allow to use its airports. We significantly help in many other areas,” the Chancellery of the Polish prime minister tweeted.