White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that a “temporary breakdown in communication” caused mixed messages about whether the US will help deliver 28 Polish fighter jets to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that “we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one” — after Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Sunday statement that Poland had a “green light” to move forward.
“I guess it’s a temporary breakdown in communication, but we have a strong and abiding relationship with Poland,” Psaki said at her regular briefing as Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Warsaw to show support for the NATO ally.
Psaki said that the “mechanism” of the handover was the issue, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pressed for speed as Russian troops began to encircle the country’s largest cities after two weeks of war.
“The vice president is on her way there — not related to this particular issue, which will be worked through military channels — but it was more about the mechanism for how it would be delivered,” Psaki continued. “And that is the issue that is operational and we’re still discussing.”
Blinken said Sunday in a CBS News interview that Poland had a “green light” to give the 28 MIG-29 jets to Ukraine, which is not formally a US ally.
CBS journalist Margaret Brennan asked the top diplomat, “If, for instance, the Polish government, a NATO member, wants to send fighter jets, does that get a green light from the US?”
“That gets the green light,” Blinken said. “In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to backfill their needs if in fact, they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians. What can we do? How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they’re handing over to the Ukrainians?”
Poland’s government said in a Tuesday statement that it was “ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all… MIG-29 jets to the Ramstein Air Base and place them at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America.”
It was unclear how the planes would be transferred from the US-controlled Ramstein airbase to Ukraine without directly implicating the US government in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Kirby on Tuesday afternoon put the Polish plan on ice.
“As we have said, the decision about whether to transfer Polish-owned planes to Ukraine is ultimately one for the Polish government,” the Pentagon spokesman said, before dousing the specific logistical idea put forward by Warsaw.
“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,” Kirby said.
Zelensky slammed the West Wednesday for the delay as his nation’s urban areas faced Russian bombardment.
“Listen, we have a war,” he said. “We do not have time for all this signaling. This is not ping pong, this is about human lives.”
“Solve it faster,” Zelensky added. “Do not shift the responsibility — send us planes.”