WARSAW: One of Ukraine’s closest allies has cast doubt on whether it would be able to supply President Volodymyr Zelenksy with the fighter jets he says are needed to win the war with Russia.
Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda, speaking exclusively to Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, said sending F-16 aircraft would be a “very serious decision” that was “not easy to take”.
Poland has been one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters since Russia invaded.
Last month, it was one of several countries to pledge to send more tanks, ammunition and equipment to the front line.
President Duda’s comments come despite him and President Zelensky having spoken this week, at the end of the Ukrainian leader’s surprise headline-grabbing European tour. In London, President Zelensky used his speech in Parliament to call for the means to help fight Russia in the air:
“I appeal to you and the world with the simple, and yet most important words, combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom.”
Ukraine’s leader repeated that call in Paris and Brussels, in a rare departure from his country, under the tightest of security. He made headlines right around the world.
In Warsaw, President Duda told me sending F-16 jets would pose a “serious problem” because, with fewer than 50 of the aircraft in the Polish air force, “we have not enough… and we would need many more of them.”
He also stressed that combat aircraft, like the F-16s, have a “very serious need for maintenance” so it’s “not enough just to send a few planes”.
With Poland being a NATO member, said Duda, any decision to provide fighter jets had to be a “joint decision” rather than one for any single country to take.
There are also nerves about whether providing planes would pull NATO directly into the conflict and even into war against Russia itself. At the start of the Russian invasion in 2022, Duda said sending jets would “open a military interference in the Ukrainian conflict” but in direct response to Ukraine’s request for planes this week, the Polish leader’s comments are significant.
As Ukraine’s neighbour, President Duda has been one of the most ardent supporters of President Zelensky and has contributed vast amounts of military aid, becoming the main supplier of heavy weaponry including infantry fighting vehicles and artillery, drones and ammunition. Duda was also at the forefront of pushing other allies to promise to provide tanks in recent weeks.
After notable reluctance from Germany, and a fraught debate across Europe about the risks of escalating the conflict, Leopard tanks will arrive in Ukraine, along with Challengers from the UK and Abrams from the US.
Poland has also provided homes to millions of Ukrainian refugees.
President Duda is adamant that “weaponry has to be delivered to Ukraine all the time… it needs armaments” but it is clear he doesn’t think sending combat aircraft in large numbers is likely from Poland or any other ally, at least in the short term.
The UK also made it clear pretty rapidly that sending planes to Ukraine was not realistic in the immediate future.
Yes, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “nothing was off the table” while he savored his photo opportunity with President Zelensky in front of a tank this week jeans tucked into unlaced boots, tieless, alongside the Ukrainian leader in his familiar army sweatshirt and combat trousers but before too long. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)