The Polish government said Tuesday it is prepared to hand over its entire fleet of MiG-29 fighters to the United States for possible use in Ukraine, so long as Washington and its NATO allies provide Warsaw with comparable combat aircraft.
The Ukrainian government has been pleading with the West for greater firepower in the air to challenge a bigger and better armed Russian invasion force, but the Polish offer is likely to inflame the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which has issued stark warnings for Western countries to stay out of the fighting inside Ukraine.
If the deal goes through, the Soviet-made jets would be delivered to Ramstein Air Base in southwest Germany and could later be transferred to Ukraine to bolster its air force. Ukrainian military pilots are reported to be familiar with the technology and controls of the vintage Soviet-era fighter jets.
“At the same time, Poland requests the United States to provide us with used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities. Poland is ready to immediately establish the conditions of purchase of the planes,” Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement released Tuesday.
Senior Pentagon officials said they are studying the proposal but noted there isn’t a ready-made supply of spare U.S. fighters. In effect, they would have to be taken from an existing U.S. military unit until they can be replaced.
The Soviet-era MiG-29, known by NATO countries as the Fulcrum, was designed in the mid-1970s as an air superiority fighter to counter U.S. jets such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-15 Eagle.
It is the primary fighter used by Ukraine’s air force. A pilot of a MiG-29 referred to as the “Ghost of Kyiv” is reported to have shot down six Russian aircraft since the start of the 2022 Russia-Ukrainian War, although the accounts have been disputed.
The Polish ministry in its statement said other NATO allies that also have MiGs in their air defenses should consider the same offer to help Ukraine. Poland, which shares a 300-mile-plus border with Ukraine has accepted the bulk of the more than 1.5 million refugees who have fled the fighting in Ukraine since Feb. 24.
Besides Poland, three other NATO air forces fly MiG-29s aircraft left over from the Communist era — Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria.