Kamala Harris and Polish President Duda deny rift over Ukraine fighter jet saga: ‘That situation is extremely complicated’

Ms Harris says the US and Poland remain united in their desire to provide for Ukraine’s defence

Andrew Feinberg
Washington
Thursday 10 March 2022 15:51 GMT
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Polish President Andrzej Duda, right, and US Vice President Kamala Harris hold a press conference at Belwelder Palace, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Polish President Andrzej Duda, right, and US Vice President Kamala Harris hold a press conference at Belwelder Palace, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

Polish President Andrzej Duda and US Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday both denied that the Pentagon’s rejection of a plan to use the United States as a middleman for transferring Soviet-made fighter jets to Ukraine has caused any conflict between the two Nato allies.

On Wednesday, the Defence Department rejected Poland’s proposal to deliver MiG-29 fighters — which Ukrainian pilots are currently trained to operate — to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, leaving them in the custody of the United States until Ukraine could send pilots to retrieve them or they could otherwise be brought into Ukraine.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensly has repeatedly urged western countries that possess the ex-Soviet aircraft to provide them to his Air Force so they can defend against Russian jets that have been bombing Ukrainian cities, including civilian targets such as hospitals.

But Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said officials had determined such a transfer was “not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capabilities,” and would provide “little increased capabilities at high risk” of being seen as Nato escalating the conflict.

Speaking at a joint media with Mr Duda in Warsaw, Ms Harris responded to a reporter’s question about the aborted proposal by vehemently denying the existence of any daylight between Mr Duda’s government and the United States.

“I want to be very clear: The United States and Poland are united in what we have done and are prepared to do to help Ukraine and the people of Ukraine,” she said. “Full stop.”

After she added that the US is “making deliveries every day” in the form of defensive weapons such as Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Mr Duda interjected to say he “needed to give an answer as well”.

He proceeded to defend his government’s decision not to simply turn the planes over to Ukrainian forces as necessary to protect both Poland’s security and the security of the entire Nato bloc.

“That situation is extremely complicated, because we are all saying that there is a fight going on in Ukraine for independence, for sovereignty, for freedom and for survival, and all of us support — with all the strength we have — the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Mr Duda noted that Ukraine’s “expectations” of a delivery of MiG jets had been addressed to Poland “in a strong and unequivocal way,” but said his government’s response had been made with Nato’s needs in mind.

“We have to look at these not only through our own lens — through the prism of the security of Poland — but we also have to adopt the perspective of the security of Nato as a whole. So in a nutshell, we have to be a responsible member of the North Atlantic alliance,” he said.

“We behaved in such a way as a reliable member of Nato should behave — a member of Nato who does not want to expose Nato to any difficult situation,” he continued, adding that his government’s initial statement about the proposal simply talked about “possibilities” of placing his country’s MiG-29 jets “at the disposal” of Nato.

“But we wanted Nato as a whole to make a common decision so that Poland remains a credible member of Nato, not a country who decides on its own on important issues which impact the security of Nato as a whole”.

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