Harris lands in Poland amid turmoil over jets bound for Ukraine – Press Enterprise


WARSAW, Poland — Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Warsaw to thank Poland for hosting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion took an unexpected turn before she even left Washington. She parachutes over fighter jets amid unexpected diplomatic turbulence.

The Polish government on Tuesday unveiled a plan to relocate its Russian-made warplanes to a US military base in Germany, with the expectation that the planes would then be handed over to Ukrainian pilots trying to hold off Russian forces. In return, the US would supply Poland with US-made jets with “appropriate capabilities.”

But the Poles didn’t push the idea past the Biden administration before going public with it, and the Pentagon was quick to dismiss the idea as untenable. Warplanes flying from a US and NATO base into airspace contested with Russia would increase the risk of the war spreading beyond Ukraine.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stressed on Wednesday that Poland’s support for Ukraine is defensive and that any decision on whether to make the MiG-29 planes available to Ukraine is a matter for the US and NATO – and only if all of them are nations agree.

Around the same time Harris arrived in Warsaw, the Pentagon publicly dismissed the idea of ​​supplying MiGs to Ukraine, even through a second country.

The plane issue created a rare moment of disharmony in a largely joint effort by NATO allies to help Ukraine without becoming embroiled in a major war with Russia.

And it meant Harris flew into troubled territory on Wednesday as she opened a two-day visit to Poland and Romania and tried to put things back on track.

“This fighter jet situation is a messy deal, and Harris has to go in there and smooth things over,” said Daniel Fried, who served as U.S. ambassador to Poland for President Bill Clinton and was a senior adviser in the George W. Bush and governments of Barack Obama. “There are many discussions about the way forward that must be conducted with the Poles, which should better be conducted in a personal conversation.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Harris’ trip did not focus on the aircraft issue and that the matter was being “handled through military channels.”

Harris is scheduled to meet with Morawiecki and Polish President Andrzej Sebastian Duda on Thursday, as well as with Ukrainians who have fled to Poland. She will also meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Warsaw. Trudeau was in Europe this week meeting with Ukrainian allies.

Harris travels to Bucharest on Friday, where she will meet Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

The vice president is also expected to use the meetings in Poland and Romania to underscore the US commitment to the NATO alliance and the need for continued humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine. She will also stress the need for allies to continue working closely together.

Biden has praised Poland and other eastern European countries for stepping up amid a huge humanitarian crisis that is only growing. About 2 million people have fled Ukraine, and more than half of the refugees have arrived in Poland.

Biden said Tuesday he is committed to helping Ukraine’s neighbors support refugees. He has deployed 4,700 additional US troops to Poland to bolster the defenses of the NATO ally on the eastern flank.

“I have made it clear that the United States will share responsibility for caring for the refugees so that the costs do not fall entirely on the European countries bordering Ukraine,” Biden said. He had asked Congress to pass a $14 billion aid package to help Ukraine and its Eastern European allies.

Hours after Biden spoke, Poland surprised the White House with his proposal.

Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State for Political Affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she saw the Polish government’s announcement as she drove to Capitol Hill to testify.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. called it “curious” for Poland to announce its plan “without first alerting us”.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said Sunday that the US is working with Poland on plans to supply Ukraine with fighter jets and “meet” Poland’s needs. However, the Polish government made it clear that it would not send its fighter jets directly to Ukraine or use its airports.

Poland’s idea of ​​transferring its MiGs to the US did not come up during talks with Blinken, a US official familiar with the talks said.

A government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, said White House officials didn’t think the proposal would easily solve the logistical challenges of getting planes to Ukraine and questioned it the logic of moving the planes to a major NATO base in Germany just to bring them back to Eastern Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine or to supply Ukraine with fighter jets. NATO has scrapped the idea of ​​a no-fly zone, saying such a move would lead to the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II and spread further.

Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said late Tuesday he hopes the administration can work out a better deal with Poland and “give them assurances that we will supply fighter jets.” McCaul also said deadlier drones could be another option to provide air power to Ukrainians

Harris traveled to the Munich Security Conference last month to rally European allies in the days leading up to the invasion. She also met with Zelenskyy and other European officials.

“The Vice President’s trip to Poland and Europe is part of our efforts to demonstrate our strong support for our NATO allies and partners, the security assistance they provide and their role in welcoming and hosting refugees from Ukraine,” he said Psaki.


Associated Press reporter Monika Scislowska contributed to this report. Mascaro reported from Washington.


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