After the US rejected a request to send Polish fighter jets to help Ukraine resist Russian air power, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Western leaders to regain their “courage.” Poland, a NATO member, volunteered on Tuesday to send MiG-29 fighter fighters to Ukraine via the US Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The Pentagon, on the other hand, promptly shot down the notion. “It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby tweeted.
“The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America’ departing from a US/NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.” In a speech delivered early Thursday, Zelenskyy thanked Poland for the offer and urged the West to assist defend Ukraine from Russian aerial attacks. “Together we must return courage to some Western leaders. So that they finally do what they had to do on the first day of the invasion,” he said.
“Either close the Ukrainian sky from Russian missiles and bombs, or give us fighter jets so that we can do everything ourselves. A pause without a decision has become simply deadly.” Zelenskyy has long criticised the West’s lack of military response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for the US and NATO to impose a no-fly zone over the country. Accepting a no-fly zone would imply that the US and NATO would commit to shooting down Russian planes that fly into Ukrainian airspace, a notion that most Western leaders have shied away from.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, echoing the Pentagon, warned Wednesday that sending fighter jets would not help “de-escalate the confrontation.” Poland’s ambassador to the United States, Marek Magierowski, said he recognised the United States’ stance that the proposal was “extremely escalatory” and that NATO should “move on.” On Monday, Zelenskyy said he had “cooled down” on Ukraine’s plans to join NATO because “NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine.”
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Despite its refusal to send armed soldiers into Ukraine, the United States has provided weapons and military help, as well as increased its military presence in neighbouring countries. As a result of Russia’s incursion, the US moved two Patriot missile batteries to Poland on Tuesday “to tackle any possible threats” to NATO. In his speech on Thursday, Zelenskyy emphasised a series of what he called Russian war crimes perpetrated in the first two weeks of the invasion.
“Destroyed hospitals. Destroyed schools, churches, houses. And all the people killed. All the children killed,” he said. Three people were killed, including one infant, after Russia bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol on Wednesday, according to Ukrainian officials.
“The air bomb on the maternity hospital is the final proof. Proof that the genocide of Ukrainians is taking place,” Zelenskyy said. “Today, we must be united in condemning this war crime of Russia, which reflects all the evil that the invaders brought to our land.”
Ukraine’s and Russia’s foreign ministers met in Turkey on Thursday for the first high-level talks between the two countries since the invasion began. Ukraine’s foreign minister claimed around the time of publication that the two countries were no closer to agreeing on a ceasefire.