Republican senators grilled intelligence officials on Thursday for not supporting Poland’s plan to send fighter jets to Ukraine, claiming the United States was bowing to threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) blasted U.S. officials for “failing to help Poland,” which on Tuesday offered to send MiG-29 fighter jets to a base in Germany for deployment to Ukraine, with the U.S. then providing fighter jets to Poland to resupply its military.
The White House ultimately rejected that proposal, warning it could be viewed as an escalatory action in Putin’s eyes that could trigger a larger conflict between NATO and Russia.
Cotton asked why Putin “might be A-okay with us transferring missiles that turn their tanks into burning piles of rubbish or shoot their jets out of the sky, yet transferring tactical aircraft is considered unacceptable?”
“I don’t think there’s a lot of common sense between the distinction,” he added.
Ukraine has begged NATO for fighter jets as it fights off a brutal Russian invasion on the ground and in the air, pleas that have won limited support in Washington over escalation fears.
After Poland’s offer on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Polish officials he does not support the transfer of the MiG-29 jets “at this time” because it was high-risk, according to his press secretary.
Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, repeated to lawmakers Thursday that there was an “escalation ladder” and Putin would view the transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine as an escalation.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the committee the decision to nix the transfer of the fighter jets was also based on the perception of Putin.