The Botched Handling of Poland’s MiG-29s | National Review

The Botched Handling of Poland’s MiG-29s | National Review

A MIG-29 fighter prepares before take off at a military air base in Vasylkiv, Ukraine, August 3, 2016. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

For providing military aid to Ukraine after the Russian invasion, the Biden administration has congratulated itself for standing strong. NATO and the West summoned a cohesion and a collective indignation unanticipated by Putin. Germany’s profession of the intent to increase military spending to 2 percent and to wean itself at least partially off its over-reliance on Russian oil and natural gas were especially deserving of praise. At the same time, however, one recent incident is disturbing in terms of a lack of resolve.

Ukraine had requested that Poland contribute MiG-29s, to be flown by Ukrainian pilots. The Biden administration could have said, “Let’s not give Putin an excuse to showcase to the Russian people that they are being attacked, pointing to the MiGs.” That stance is understandable.

Instead, the initial reaction of the Biden administration was one of benevolent neutrality. “The decision about whether to transfer Polish-owned planes to Ukraine is ultimately one for the Polish government,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. In essence, the administration approved the MiG transfer as long as Poland, a NATO member, did so unilaterally. As is his wont, Putin had threatened retaliation.

But having been given the green light by the U.S., Poland added a twist. It would fly its 30 MiG-29s to a U.S. air base in Germany. From there, the planes could be transferred to Ukraine. This required the U.S. and Germany to share in the risk of facing Putin’s wrath. The Biden administration immediately declined. “The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” Kirby said. “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it.”

That statement was baldly disingenuous. From either Poland or Germany, it would be Ukrainian, not American, pilots flying the MiGs into Ukraine. In essence, it was fine for Poland as a NATO nation to take a risk; but when that risk, however remote, extended to the U.S. as a NATO nation, the administration backed away. So did our military, given that it was a Pentagon spokesman who delivered the declination.

During the Vietnam War, the Soviet Union needed no third country such as Poland as a buffer. Russian ships delivered artillery, tanks, and munitions directly to North Vietnam. We did not show the same resolve. The Biden administration’s about-face in the case of the MiGs encourages Putin in his view that we lack resolve. Poland will see this as a rebuff, and NATO is dependent upon Poland for the long war and probable insurgency to come. Over the coming months, Putin will probe and test for other fissures time is sure to bring.

PHOTOS: MiG-29 Fighter

A former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine, Bing West embedded with dozens of platoons in Afghanistan and wrote three books about the course of that mismanaged war.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.