Poland MiG-29: Warsaw becomes the first NATO member to promise fighter jets to Ukraine

(CNN) Poland pledged on Thursday to send four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, the first NATO member to do so, in a major step in the battle for Kiev to resist Russia’s assault.

“As for the MiG-29 aircraft, which are still operating in the defense of Polish airspace, a decision has been taken at the highest level, we can say with confidence that we are sending MiGs to Ukraine,” said President Andrzej Duda.

Poland’s decision to send the jets to Ukraine marks a break with the NATO alliance and could pressure other member states to do the same. Other NATO nations have been reluctant to go much beyond a decision earlier this year to send tanks to kyiv.

Duda said the planes were among a dozen planes inherited from the former German Democratic Republic, and were nearing the end of their service life, but were “still functional”. They would be delivered in the next few days after being revised.

Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw with his new Czech counterpart Petr Pavel, the Polish president voiced the two countries’ joint support for Kyiv.

“The Czech Republic and Poland are countries that are at the absolute forefront when it comes to supporting Ukraine, both humanitarianly and militarily,” President Duda said.

Poland was one of the most vocal European nations against Russia, even before the invasion of Ukraine. Russia is still perceived by many in Polish political and diplomatic circles in a Cold War context. Putin has always been considered untrustworthy by Warsaw and Russian expansion must be fought at all costs. It is one of the few NATO countries that is legally bound to meet its defense spending commitment of 2% of GDP and is an active member of the European defense community.

Although sending MiGs is a break with the alliance, it is not an unexpected move and is fully in line with Poland’s NATO membership. It could change the dynamic within the alliance, acting as a catalyst for more countries to do so, or upset countries that oppose NATO becoming more involved in the conflict, such as Hungary.

The bigger question will be whether he puts pressure on the UK and the US, which will then do the same for Germany. Ultimately, creating this pressure on other allies was probably Poland’s intention.

Polish President Andrzej Duda’s decision to send jets, seen last month with US President Joe Biden, could pressure other NATO allies to do the same.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his country would provide 14 Leopard 2 tanks in January, bowing to mounting international pressure, led by the United States, Poland and a bloc of other European nations, which have called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their wanted vehicles.

The announcement was accompanied by the United States, with President Joe Biden saying he would provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, overturning the administration’s longstanding resistance to Kiev’s demands for the highly sophisticated but requiring a lot of maintenance.

In addition to tanks, Ukraine has also lobbied for the United States to provide fighter jets, arguing that it needs planes to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.

But the push has been met with skepticism by US and allied officials, who say the jets would be impractical because they require considerable training and Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that could easily shoot them down.

US and European officials previously told CNN that the F-16 fighter jets were impractical in this situation. Germany has completely ruled out deliveries of fighter jets to Ukraine, while British government officials echoed that sentiment and said they believed it was impractical to send combat aircraft in Ukraine.

Alleged spy ring

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Polish authorities said nine people from an alleged spy ring had been arrested on suspicion of “collaborating” with Russia’s FSB secret service agency.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński said those arrested were “foreigners from across the eastern border”.

“The suspects carried out intelligence activities against Poland and prepared acts of sabotage at the request of the Russian intelligence services,” the minister said.

Kamiński revealed that the prosecutor’s office had charged six people with espionage and participation in an organized criminal group.

The court decided to remand the six, he said, adding that legal proceedings were pending against the three detainees on Wednesday.

“Evidence shows that the group was monitoring railway routes. Its tasks included reconnaissance, surveillance and documentation of arms shipments delivered to Ukraine,” the minister said.

“The suspects were also supposed to be preparing for sabotage activities aimed at crippling the supply of equipment, weapons and aid to Ukraine,” Kamiński continued.

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