US Secretary of State Tony Blinken told CBS News on Sunday that Washington has given a “green light” to NATO members to supply Ukraine with fighter jets, and that the US would work to replace any jets sent to Kiev. Blinken spoke after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged US lawmakers to intervene in the ongoing conflict with Russia.
Asked whether NATO members could begin sending planes to Ukraine, Blinken said “that gets a green light.” The US’ top diplomat then said that Washington was already working with Polish officials to “backfill” any aircraft they send to Ukraine – meaning the US would replace every Polish aircraft given to Kiev with an American one.
Supporting the delivery of jets to Ukraine occupies a middle ground for the US between active intervention in Ukraine and purely economic retaliation against Moscow. The government in Kiev has made no secret of its desire for the US to intervene militarily, with President Zelensky urging American lawmakers on Saturday to enforce a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine. Such a measure would see the US and any willing NATO allies commit to shooting down Russian aircraft, something Moscow has explicitly said it would perceive as an act of war.
The US and NATO have ruled out a no-fly zone, and repeatedly stated that they would not send troops to Ukraine.
However, delivering fighter jets to the Ukrainians has not proven simple thus far. The European Union pledged warplanes to Ukraine late last month, but faced two significant hurdles: first finding jets that Ukrainian pilots could fly, and then finding countries willing to deliver them from their airports.
The Ukrainian Air Force uses Soviet-designed MiG-29 and Sukhoi Su-24, Su-25, and Su-27 jets in combat roles, and with the Su-25 used by Bulgaria and the MiG-29 used by Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia, the jets would need to be sourced from these countries.
Shortly after the EU’s announcement, Poland stated that it wouldn’t send jets to Ukraine nor allow its airports to be used for deliveries. Bulgaria and Slovakia then stated that they wouldn’t take part in any deal, effectively killing off the EU’s arms supply plans.
However, Blinken’s statement on Sunday suggests that the plan may have been revived, but by the US and Poland rather than the EU. Blinken did not give any indication how soon Polish planes could be on their way to Ukraine, but said that discussions between Washington and Warsaw were “active.”