(CNN) On Thursday, Poland promised to send four MiG-29 fighter jets In a significant move in the Kiev war to resist Russian aggression, Ukraine became the first NATO member to do so.
President Andrzej Duda He said about a dozen of the planes — sourced from the former German Democratic Republic — would be handed over in the coming days after being serviced.
“When it comes to MiG-29s that are still operational in the defense of Polish airspace, a decision has been made at a high level and we can say with certainty that we are sending MiGs to Ukraine,” Duda said.
Warsaw is the leading supplier of heavy weapons to Kyiv among NATO allies. Poland’s announcement that it will send Soviet-designed aircraft represents a step beyond the alliance’s other commitments and could put pressure on other member states to do the same. Other NATO countries have been reluctant to go beyond a decision to send tanks to Kiev earlier this year, and the US insisted on Thursday that Poland’s move would not force Washington’s hand.
Speaking at a news conference in Warsaw alongside his new Czech counterpart, Peter Pawel, the Polish president expressed the two countries’ joint support for Kiev.
“Czech Republic and Poland are absolute frontrunners when it comes to supporting Ukraine at the humanitarian and military levels,” President Duda said.
Poland was one of the most vocal European countries against Russia — even before the Ukraine invasion. Russia is still seen by many in Poland’s political and diplomatic circles in the context of the Cold War. Putin has always been seen as unreliable by Warsaw and Russia’s expansion is something to be fought at all costs. It is one of the few NATO countries required by law to meet defense spending of 2% of their GDP and is an active member of the European Defense Community.
The deployment of the MiGs is not an unexpected move for Poland, which is fully compliant with NATO membership. This could change the dynamics within the alliance, and act as a catalyst for many countries, or upset countries opposed to NATO becoming more involved in the conflict, such as Hungary.
The big question is whether it will do the same to Germany if it puts pressure on Britain and America. Ultimately, it may be Poland’s intention to build this pressure on other allies.
The White House said Thursday that Poland’s decision to send the fighter jets was a “sovereign decision” that would not prompt President Joe Biden to send the F-16s.
“It doesn’t change our calculation regarding the F-16s,” said John Kirby, a top official at the US National Security Council.
“These are sovereign decisions that any country makes, and we respect those sovereign decisions,” he said later: “They have to decide not just what they’re going to give, but how they’re going to classify it.”
“I don’t think it’s our place to characterize Poland’s decision one way or the other,” Kirby said, declining to endorse the decision.
Biden, who earlier this year said he would not send U.S. warplanes to Ukraine, said he would not be swayed by Poland’s decision.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in January that his country would deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks, bowing to intensifying international pressure led by the United States, Poland and a group of other European nations that called on Berlin to increase its military support and pledges. They send the vehicles they searched for.
The announcement was matched by the United States, which said President Joe Biden would deliver 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing the administration’s longstanding resistance to requests from Kyiv for the more sophisticated but maintenance-heavy vehicles.
In addition to tanks, Ukraine has been pushing for the delivery of fighter jets to the United States, arguing that the planes are needed to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.
But that motivation has been questioned by U.S. and allied officials, who say the jets would be impractical because they require substantial training and Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that could easily shoot them down.
There are American and European authorities previously told CNN F-16 fighter jets are impractical under these circumstances. Germany has outright ruled out providing fighter jets to Ukraine, while UK government officials have echoed this sentiment, saying they believe it is not practical to send jets into Ukraine.
Said to be a spy ring
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Polish authorities said they had arrested nine members of a spy ring suspected of “cooperation” with the Russian secret service agency FSB.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said those arrested were “foreigners from across the eastern border”.
“The suspects carried out intelligence operations against Poland and prepared acts of sabotage at the request of Russian intelligence,” the minister said.
Kamiński revealed that the prosecutor’s office accused six people of espionage and participation in an organized crime group.
The court decided to remand the six, pending trial against the three arrested on Wednesday, he said.
“Sources show that the group monitored railway routes. Its tasks included authorizing, monitoring and documenting shipments with weapons delivered to Ukraine,” the minister said.
“Suspects should also be prepared for acts of sabotage aimed at disrupting the delivery of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine,” Kaminsky continued.