WASHINGTON — A proposal to provide Ukraine with Soviet-era fighter jets via Poland is struggling to gain traction in the Biden administration, and the U.S. is reviewing whether the plan is feasible, according to three U.S. officials.
Allied efforts to help Kyiv obtain fighter jets from its Eastern European neighbors have resulted in a proposal in which Poland would send Ukraine its old Russian-made MiG fighters and the U.S. would replace them by sending F-16 jets to Warsaw.
At this point, however, U.S. officials caution that such a plan is not expected to be enacted any time soon.
“It’s a lot easier to give hand-held weapons than it is to transfer a plane,” a source familiar with the discussions said Monday.
The U.S. also does not have a surplus of F-16s, officials said.
Officials are similarly worried that Russia could see supplying military aircraft as direct involvement in the conflict. Polish President Andrzej Duda said last week that his country would not send any planes to Ukraine because it might be seen as interfering in the war, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has signaled that supplying fighter jets would constitute direct involvement.
The Polish Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the U.S. was working with Poland on the issue but declined to discuss timing. Three congressional aides said there is strong bipartisan support for helping Ukraine secure more fighter jets from Poland and some impatience with the Biden administration over the issue.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has sought to bolster his country’s defenses with new air power ever since the U.S. and NATO ruled out creating a no-fly zone in Ukraine.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki referred Monday to the “layers of different, difficult logistical challenges” surrounding the proposal.
“This is Poland’s sovereign decision to make. We have in no way opposed Poland transferring planes to Ukraine,” Psaki told reporters.
“There are a number of challenging practical questions, including how the planes would actually be transferred from Poland to Ukraine, right? So, are they going to fly? Where will they depart from? Where will they land? Those are all very important questions here,” she said.
Psaki added that sending F-16s to Poland and replacing them in the U.S. would carry its own challenges. “Procuring new planes and transferring serious weapon systems often take years to do from the United States,” she said.
The proposal emerged more than a week ago when the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters that some member states were ready to provide Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine.
Military analysts have said other Russian-made military equipment from Eastern European countries, including surface-to-air missiles and radar, could be of equal use as Ukraine fights back against Russia.
Courtney Kube is a correspondent covering national security and the military for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Peter Alexander is chief White House correspondent for NBC News.
Carol E. Lee
Carol E. Lee is an NBC News correspondent.
Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit.