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Ex-U.S. ambassador says Poland's gesture toward Ukraine might encourage other allies

William Taylor, former United States ambassador to Ukraine and pro-democracy activists speaks in front of the Lincoln Memorial on February 20, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
Kenny Holston
Getty Images
William Taylor, former United States ambassador to Ukraine and pro-democracy activists speaks in front of the Lincoln Memorial on February 20, 2022 in Washington, D.C.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda announced Thursday that his country plans to provide four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine to support its fight against Russia.

Poland is the first NATO country to provide fighter planes to Ukraine, though Ukraine has requested fighter jets from several countries, including the United States.

William Taylor, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, says Poland's fighter jets are not "state of the art, but they are very modern, very capable and many NATO allies fly them right now."

"They'll be a real addition for the Ukrainians," Taylor told NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer Friday morning in a conversation on Morning Edition.

"It turns out that Slovakians have just promised 13 [MiG-29 jets]."

How will Ukraine use the fighter jets?

While Ukraine has military forces on the ground to fight, Taylor says the country needs a viable air force to support Ukraine's ground offensive to push Russia out this spring and summer. He also says the jets will help Ukraine "defend their airspace."

"As we know, the Russians have not been able to succeed on the ground, but the Russians can fire missiles and other bombs, cruise missiles, at civilian targets," Taylor said. "So, these MiG-29's will be able to counter the Russian aircraft."

The Biden administration repeatedly denied Ukraine's request for its F-16 fighter jets because they were concerned the jets would be too complicated for Ukraine to maintain during an ongoing war.

MiG-29 fighter jets are a better immediate option for Ukraine because Ukrainian pilots know how to operate MiG-29 jets, according to Taylor. Since Poland is also in Europe, the jets can be deployed immediately to Ukraine.

"It's part of a larger fleet of 28," Taylor said.

Why does this matter?

Taylor said Poland's initiative could pressure the U.S. to provide more advanced weapons to Ukraine.

"We've seen this over and over," Taylor said. "When one nation will move forward on providing some weapons, others will follow. Often it's the Americans who will go after another nation has taken this step. So, I think the answer is yes. Others, including the United States, could soon make a decision to provide this kind of aircraft."

John Kibry, the National Security Council spokesman, said the Biden administration would not provide aircraft to Ukraine, but Taylor told NPR it's unlikely they'll maintain that position.

"There are two Ukrainian pilots reportedly in the United States already for some kind of training. Maybe it's simulation, maybe it's an assessment, but the signs are very good that the United States will some time do this."

Will Russia and China discuss peace plans next week?

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will fly to Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although China has released a position paper on the war in Ukraine, Taylor says he would be "surprised if the meeting resulted in anything useful."

"President Xi has put out a peace plan with many points, some of which are of interest to the Ukrainians," Taylor said.

"The bulk of the plan is clearly Russian oriented, and in order to be a useful peace plan or in order for China to be an effective mediator, they have to be neutral."

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Destinee Adams
Destinee Adams (she/her) is a temporary news assistant for Morning Edition and Up First. In May 2022, a month before joining Morning Edition, she earned a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism at Oklahoma State University. During her undergraduate career, she interned at the Stillwater News Press (Okla.) and participated in NPR's Next Generation Radio. In 2020, she wrote about George Floyd's impact on Black Americans, and in the following years she covered transgender identity and unpopular Black history in the South. Adams was born and raised in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.