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A growing and bipartisan group in Congress is pushing President Biden to facilitate the transfer of Poland’s MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine amid Russia’s brutal invasion, despite statements by the U.S. military that such a move would be high-risk, low-reward.
The White House is leaning on that position from the military in its opposition to providing the jets, including that Ukraine does not really need the aircraft. But Biden already ceded to pressure from Congress to take a tougher stance against Russia multiple times since the war started. And dozens more members from both parties Sunday called on the president to help Ukraine get its hands on the Polish fighter jets President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is petitioning for.
“We, the 58 members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, urge continued U.S. commitment to the sovereignty of Ukraine and the freedom of the Ukrainian people in the face of Russia’s ongoing invasion,” the moderate, bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC) said Sunday. “We strongly believe that the U.S. must provide additional defense materiel to Ukrainians protecting their nation.”
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The PSC went on to call on Biden to help give the Ukrainians Stinger missiles, drones and Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets that Poland is offering to send to Ukraine.
The Biden administration almost immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine imposed harsh sanctions against Russia. Then it leveled even more sanctions targeting Russia’s financial institutions after pressure from Congress. Then Congress pressed for a ban on Russian oil imports. The House was going to pass a bill to that effect before Biden finally announced the ban last week.
Now, after initially signaling an openness to helping make the MiG-29 transfer happen, the White House appears to have shut the door on the possibility, to the chagrin of many in Congress.
The problem is, how do you get them to Ukraine without it raising the involvement of NATO… Once that plane takes off from Poland. Well, it’s an air raid on Russian forces taking off from Poland.
“It’s a bipartisan message… Send these MiGs,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said at a Senate GOP press conference Thursday. “The question is well, why aren’t they being sent?… Enough talk, people are dying. Send them the planes that they need. They say they need MiGs. People say, ‘Well, maybe that’s not the ideal weapon for them.’ That’s what they say they want. They’re there.”
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“When we say we’re going to do something, and we don’t do it, we’re sending mixed messages to Putin. And that shows a lack of resolve,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, added on “Your World,” last week.
Democrat Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., both backed the provision of the fighter jets in a hearing earlier Thursday.
“There is bipartisan support for providing Ukraine with fighter jets of neighboring countries that they would know how to fly and engage in,” Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said Thursday. “Time is of the essence. The Ukrainians are getting bombarded and they do no have, at least as their country’s leaders suggest and assert, the wherewithal to compete in the sky… I don’t understand why we are not working expeditiously to facilitate planes to Ukraine.”
“It is disappointing to see the reluctance on the part of the administration and it is coming across as indecision and bickering,” Shaheen said.
But the president and his allies say those who are pushing for the jets are not thinking about the potential consequences.
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The White House referred to comments from U.S. European Command Commander Gen. Tod. D. Wolters when asked about the possibility of helping Polish jets make it into Ukraine.
“We believe the most effective way to support the Ukrainian military in their fight against Russia is to provide increased amounts of anti-tank weapons and air defense systems, which is on-going with the international community,” Wolters said in a statement. “USEUCOM assesses the military usefulness of additional fixed wing air to Ukraine will be high-risk and low gain.”
“The transfer of MiG-29 aircraft will not appreciably increase the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force… Therefore, we assess that the overall gain is low,” Wolters added. “Lastly, the intelligence community assesses the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in Russian escalation with NATO…producing a high risk scenario.”
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Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., raised the same issue on “Fox News Live” Saturday.
“The problem is, how do you get them to Ukraine without it raising the involvement of NATO?” he said. “It’s one thing to send in a truck with weapons in it. It crosses the border and then it’s in Ukraine… Once that plane takes off from Poland. Well, it’s an air raid on Russian forces taking off from Poland.”
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also said on “Fox News Sunday” also said moving the jets would be “very complicated” and argued “backfilling them was virtually impossible.”
The White House is giving no indication it will budge on its stance against helping provide MiG-19s to Ukraine. But that appeared to be the same
Fox News’ Ryan Flynn, Jacqui Heinrich, Kimberly Anderson and Jesse Bedell contributed to this report.