‘Putin will fail and Russia will suffer strategic defeat’ in Ukraine, says Blinken – US

Clash between Poland and US over MiG-29s reveals tensions in escalating war.

That’s the Guardian’s headline on this analysis piece from our diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour, which notes that the public spat over fighter planes begged for by Ukraine is a setback in Nato unity.

And the upshot of this mini-debacle is that Russia retains air superiority.

Polish Air Force MiG-29.

Polish Air Force MiG-29. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Patrick writes: The buck-passing between Poland and the US over the possible use of elderly MiG-29s to hit Russian forces inside Ukraine is one of the west’s few diplomatic failures of the past month. It also raises questions about how far European countries are prepared to escalate militarily before they believe they will touch a dangerous Russian tripwire.

The US and Europe have worked hard to keep their differences over sanctions and oil embargos to a public minimum, and tried to accommodate each other’s national interests. So it was striking on Tuesday when first the Pentagon described a Polish offer to send planes to the US airbase in Ramstein as “untenable”, and then the deputy US secretary of state said the US had not been consulted about the plan.

Part of the problem was that the Polish proposal was subtly but critically different to a scheme that had previously been discussed in private. Against the backdrop of highly charged diplomatic tensions, presentation matters.

In essence, Poland said it would cooperate in strengthening the Ukrainian air force so long as this would be seen in Moscow as a US, Nato or EU scheme but not a Polish one.

In its original, US-conceived iteration, the proposal was a trilateral deal whereby Poland would hand over the MiGs to Ukrainian pilots to fly into their homeland, and the US would then provide some substitute planes. Boris Johnson, an enthusiast, described the plan as “rent a MiG”.

That proposal, arguably, was not qualitatively different to Nato members providing Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles. In return, Poland would eventually fill the hole in its air force with 28 F-16s being provided by the US.

But under private pressure from the US, Poland felt the plan unduly exposed its citizens to Putin’s ire.

So instead, in a game of diplomatic pass the parcel, Poland tweaked the proposals so the planes would be sent free of charge to the US airbase in Ramstein, Germany, rather than being flown out of Poland into Ukraine. The move would literally take Poland out of the line of Russia’s fire since the plan could be labelled as that of the US, Nato or the EU.

Poland also suggested other frontline Nato countries with MiG planes should match its plan, a proposal directed at Slovakia and Romania. If executed it would mean Ukraine had 70 extra planes at its disposal.

The Pentagon’s response – “it is simply not clear to us that there is a tangible justification for this” – was swift. Passing the parcel back, it said any decision to hand over planes ultimately rested with the Polish government, although it did not kill off the proposal altogether. The rest of the piece is here.

Read More: ‘Putin will fail and Russia will suffer strategic defeat’ in Ukraine, says Blinken – US

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