A Polish Air Force MIG-29 seen at 22nd Air Base Command in Malbork, Poland on August 27, 2021.
Cuneyt Karadag/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Poland’s government said it would be willing to transfer its fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets to an American base in Germany, though it wasn’t immediately clear if the U.S. or other NATO allies would offer any support for the proposal.

The move by Poland would presumably be part of a plan to get the jets into Ukrainian territory eventually. But a top American official called the offer on Tuesday a surprise, and an attempt to carry it out would likely be seen by Russian President Vladimir Putin as an act of aggression.

NATO nations — including Poland, Germany and the U.S.—have repeatedly committed themselves to the bloc’s vow to consider an attack on one ally as an attack on all. But Ukraine isn’t part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is why nations haven’t been willing to commit forces to the conflict following Russia’s invasion.

More direct NATO engagement in Ukraine would greatly expand the war and raise fears of nuclear conflict. U.S. and European officials have ruled out the creation of a no-fly zone over Ukraine precisely because that would mean shooting down Russian aircraft.

Giving up its 28 Soviet-era MIG-29 jets would leave Polish armed forces with just 48 F-16 warplanes.

Sending Polish jets to the U.S. base at Ramstein, Germany, would possibly be seen as a way by authorities in Warsaw to aid the Ukrainian effort—or to kick responsibility for doing so to NATO as a whole.

“Poland’s proposal shows just some of the complexities this issue presents,” John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement.

“The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance,” Kirby said. “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it.”

A State Department official referred reporters to the Polish government.

Victoria Nuland, the U.S. undersecretary of State for political affairs, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that she didn’t think the Polish announcement was coordinated with Washington. Pressed on that point, she said “Not to my knowledge, and I was in a meeting where I ought to have heard about that just before I came. So I think that actually was a surprise move by the Poles.”

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