Not wanting to wait for US approvals and to meet Ukraine’s immediate military needs before the Russian onslaught, Poland dismantled its own MiG-29 fighters and kept them in a forest near the border. Ukraine then arranged to pick up the dismantled jets before reassembling them and employing them in the war.
This secret operation was conducted by keeping the Americans in the dark, who were “indecisive” on approving the additional jets for Ukraine in the first three months of the war in early 2022, according to a new book by Polish journalist Zbigniew Parafianowicz ‘Polska Na Wojnie’ (Poland at War).
The book tracks the initial diplomacy and exchanges in the run-up and the immediate aftermath of Russia’s Special Military Operation (SMO) launched on February 24, 2022. It mentioned unknown details of what transpired between President Volodymyr Zelensky, his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, US President Joe Biden, Germany, France, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Interestingly, assessments of both Ukraine’s performance and Russian war plans also influenced a significant part of the decision-making, both of which were subsequently disproven.
Ukraine offered stiff resistance in the east, southeast, and south, with Russians making only slow progress. Neither was Russia undertaking a swift, rapid, and sweeping blitzkrieg that would have required overwhelming force.
Polish Idea On How To Send MiG-29s To Ukraine
When, after February 24, it became clear that the Ukrainian government was not going anywhere and Ukraine was fighting, the question of providing military aid arose. On the first or second day, a Ukrainian official wrote on WhatsApp to one of the Polish ministers that they needed fuel and anti-aircraft complexes.
According to translated and paraphrased excerpts of the book posted on X (formerly Twitter), the need to send military aid to Ukraine arose after it was evident that the Ukrainian army and government were intact and would last longer in the war than expected.
The Poles planned to hand over the MiG-29 to Ukraine and desired to do it in a way that “would not put Poland in danger.” The Americans were “ambiguous” on this issue and pointed out to Zelensky, who had since been in touch with Poland, that Duda was opposed to handing over the MiG. “As a result, Zelensky personally called Duda.”
American reluctance could be explained by the jets being seen as a direct participation in the war by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member country, which could make it a legitimate target. This would lead to a direct collision between the US, Europe, and Russia, leading to what military experts call World War 3.
In the ensuing exchanges between Polish, American, and Ukrainian diplomats, the Poles offered to transfer the planes through Ramstein in Germany. Ramstein is a significant US Air Force base in southwestern Germany.
“The Polish pilots were ready to fly the MiGs themselves to Ramstein, from where the Ukrainians could pick them up (and fly them back into Ukraine).”
However, the US remained opposed to the plan (fearing Ramstein might come under Russian attack), and it appeared they could not offer an alternative, which frustrated the Poles and the Ukrainians.
“On the one hand, the United States pressed against the handover, and on the other, Ukraine pressed with an urgent need,” said the excerpt.
While US defense officials at Ramstein criticized Poland for the MiG transfer plan, Ukrainians slammed the Americans, arguing they “don’t have time” for these disputes. “As a result, the Americans blamed Poland for the delay. But the Poles continued to look for ways to hand over the planes.”
‘US Dilly Dallying, We Could Not Wait’
Finally, in May, the Poles disassembled ten MiG-29 planes. They placed them in the forests bordering Ukraine, from where Ukrainian Air Force and defense industry personnel reportedly “took them and assembled them again.”
Interestingly, the Polish military believed that the MiGs “would never fly after reassembly,” but the Ukrainians managed, and the planes were in service.
The book also reveals that a similar plan was developed for some transport aircraft that Poland transferred to Ukraine. “By law, planes outside of Ukraine at the beginning of the invasion had to remain abroad.”
Poles, together with Ukrainians, repainted military planes in civilian colors and transported them to Ukraine. It is unclear what law the book is referring to. However, given the context, it can be assumed that it has to do with a Ukrainian government directive or rule that disallows any foreign military aircraft from entering the country.
‘US Wanted To Defend Ukraine, But Still Delayed Approval For MiG-29s’
The US presumably learned of the MiG-29 transfer and expressed displeasure during Vice President Kamala Harris’s visit to Poland on March 10. While saying the US is “prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory” in her official statement, reports said she also impressed upon Polish leaders to reconsider the MiG-29 transfer plan.
By then, western officials officially opposed the Polish plan to transfer the MiGs via Ramstein, leading to a “rift” in the NATO alliance. US Department of Defense spokesperson John Kirby was emphatic, saying the transfer presented a “high risk” of a Russian response, triggering a military escalation with NATO.
The MiG-29s were used extensively by Ukraine, particularly after engineers modified them to fire the AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) on Russian air defense radars. At the time of writing this report, the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) reported shooting down a Ukrainian MiG-29 with surface-to-air missiles (SAM) near Vozdvizhenka in Donetsk.