Poland has said it will hand over its MiG-29 fighter jets to the US, which is then expected to donate them to Ukraine amid intelligence agency warnings that Vladimir Putin is about to “double down” in his invasion.
The Polish foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, said his government was “ready to deploy – immediately and free of charge – all their MiG-29 jets to the Ramstein air base and place them at the disposal of the government of the United States of America”.
Poland is thought to have 28 of the Soviet-era warplanes, and has been in negotiation with the Biden administration on a three-way deal to supply Ukraine with air power, on condition that the MiGs would be replaced by newer US jets.
The deal has the effect of sharing the risk of Russian retaliation with the US, which will decide how and when to hand them to the Ukrainian air force.
“Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities,” Rau said in a statement on his ministry’s website. “Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the plans.”
Rau requested other Nato allies with MiG-29 jets – a reference to Slovakia and Bulgaria – to “act in the same vein”.
Poland announced the deal as US officials said the war in Ukraine had reached a pivotal moment, with Russia sustaining severe losses but with Putin determined to press on.
“I think the next couple of days are going to be critical for both the humanitarian situation and also for the tide of this war,” Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told the Guardian .
US intelligence agencies told Congress on Tuesday that they tentatively estimated that 2,000-4,000 Russian soldiers had been killed so far, but that Putin would persevere in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.
“We assess Putin feels aggrieved the west does not give him proper deference and perceives this as a war he cannot afford to lose,” the US director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, told the House intelligence committee.
Carpenter quoted the Ukrainian foreign minister as saying Ukraine will win – but at what price?
“I think that is the question that we’re all asking ourselves, and what can we possibly do to get humanitarian relief to those in need, and to force the Russians to abide by some sort of ceasefire and respect for humanitarian corridors,” he said.
But Carpenter cautioned: “I have to say it’s so difficult because the cynicism on the Russian side is just unbelievable.”
The CIA director, William Burns, predicted “an ugly next few weeks” in Ukraine, in which the Russian leader would escalate the war “with scant regard for civilian casualties”.
Haines said US officials believe Putin “is unlikely to be deterred … and instead may escalate – essentially doubling down to achieve Ukrainian disarmament and neutrality to prevent it from further integrating with the US and Nato if it doesn’t reach some diplomatic negotiation”.
Carpenter said that US and allied weapons supplies were still getting through to the Ukrainian army.
“I don’t want to get into too many specifics as to how we’re getting our security assistance to the Ukrainians who are using it, but I can tell you that that pipeline is open, and we’re dedicated to giving them what they need to be able to defend themselves,” he said.
The Ukrainian government of Volodymyr Zelenskiy has placed great importance on the delivery of fighter jets, but US officials and military experts have expressed skepticism about how decisive MiG-29s can be, particularly as Russian forces have substantial anti-aircraft missile systems.
“I don’t want to focus too much on one particular system. Ukraine has a lot of needs,” Carpenter said. “Certainly combat aircraft could help but there’s a lot of other systems that could be useful in terms of degrading Russian air power and preventing the vast bulk of the civilian casualties, which are resulting from long-range fires.”
A senior US defense official said that Russian armed forces were stepping up their pressure on Kyiv, with intensified bombing to disrupt life in the capital and possibly lay the groundwork for a full-scale assault.
The US assesses Russia has lost about 5% of the tanks, artillery and other military equipment it brought into Ukraine, and that it still has the “vast majority” of its short-range, surface-to-air missiles and artillery available.
The US official also said the Pentagon believes Russia has prepared up to 11 tank landing ships in the Black Sea for future amphibious assaults on the Ukrainian coast.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism