The White House was struggling on Sunday night with how best to support Ukraine, without drawing U.S. and NATO forces into direct conflict with Russia.
The day began with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying the White House had given the ‘green light’ for Poland to send fighter jets to Ukraine – a declaration that Moscow forcibly rejected. It then concluded with Poland describing reports of their sending jets to Ukraine as ‘fake news”.
A senior American official told The New York Times that the question being asked in the White House was: ‘Tell me how we don’t get sucked in to a superpower conflict.’
Support among the U.S. public for the enforcement of a no-fly zone above Ukraine remains high – something that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, again requested on Saturday – with three quarters of those surveyed by Reuters/IPSOS on Friday backing the idea. But it was unclear how many understood that putting U.S. jets into Ukrainian skies would see them forced to shoot down Russian jets, likely sparking World War Three.
Instead of directly engaging in the fight with Russia, the U.S. and it’s allies in the 30-member NATO group were sending weapons to Ukraine; more than 17,000 antitank weapons, including Javelin missiles, have been sent by land to Ukraine over the borders of Poland and Romania since the conflict began.
A Ukrainian soldier is pictured on Sunday holding a NLAW – Next generation Light Anti-tank Weapon – while manning a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kyiv. NATO has so far sent 17,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine
U.S. troops are seen on Sunday at the Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near Constanta, Romania
Two Polish Air Force Russian-made MIGs 29’s fly above and below two Polish Air Force U.S. made F-16’s fighter jets, at an air show in 2011. The U.S. has approved Poland sending its MIGs to Ukraine, but Poland is reluctant to do so, fearing an escalation of hostilities
Military equipment from the French army is loaded from an Antonov 124 freight airplane, at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near Constanta, Romania, on Friday
A $350 million package of military aid was approved by Congress on February 26, two days into the conflict, and 70 percent of it was delivered in five days. By contrast, a $60 million arms package to Ukraine agreed in August was not completed until November, the Pentagon said.
The New York Times described the pace of delivery of arms as ‘warp speed’.
Blinken said on Sunday that the country was in talks with Poland in order to orchestrate a deal that would allow Polish fighter jets to be flown by pilots from the Ukrainian Air Force, in order to combat Russia’s air superiority.
Poland has a fleet of 28 Russian-made MiG-29 warplanes, which Ukrainian pilots are trained to fly and currently using.
Poland’s planes would in turn be replaced by a F-16s sent by the United States – although the new F-16s were intended for delivery to Taiwan.
Blinken, asked about giving Poland the F-16s, told CBS’s Face the Nation: ‘That gets the green light. In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians. What can we do?
‘How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they’re handing over to the Ukrainians?’
Blinken on Saturday was in Moldova and Poland, and briefly entered Ukraine to meet his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.
Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, is seen on Saturday on the Ukraine-Poland border with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba
Blinken on Sunday addressed a press conference in Moldova (pictured)
Blinken is seen stepping down from his plane on arrival in Lithuania on Sunday. He is currently on a trip to Poland, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia
Russian forces are now attempting to encircle Kyiv and pressing forward in the northeast and southeast
‘It was inspiring to meet today with my friend @DmytroKuleba at the Ukrainian-Polish border,’ he tweeted.
‘The leadership and courage that he and @ZelenskyyUa have demonstrated are remarkable, and the United States and the world will continue to stand with them and the people of Ukraine.’
After Blinken’s declaration that they would approve Poland’s supplying of jets to Ukraine, Russia’s Defense Ministry then warned countries against hosting Kyiv’s military aircraft, saying they could end up being involved in an armed conflict.
Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry, said in a video briefing that some Ukrainian combat planes had redeployed to Romania and other Ukraine neighbors
He warned that if those warplanes attacked the Russian forces from the territory of those nations, it ‘could be considered as those countries’ engagement in the military conflict’.
Konashenkov said: ‘We know for sure that Ukrainian combat aircraft have flown to Romania and other neighboring countries.
‘The use of the airfield network of these countries for basing Ukrainian military aviation with the subsequent use of force against Russia’s army can be regarded as the involvement of these states in an armed conflict.’
He also claimed that ‘practically all’ Ukraine’s combat-ready aircraft had been destroyed.
Poland has itself been concerned about the consequences of sending jets to Ukraine.
Polish president Andrzej Duda has previously brushed aside the entire idea, noting that supplying the planes would be seen as essentially interfering in the conflict.
In response to a tweet from news site Nexta, quoting The Wall Street Journal as saying that MIGs could be sent from Poland to Ukraine, the Polish prime minister’s office tweeted: ‘Unfortunately you are spreading misinformation.
‘Poland won’t send its fighter jets to #Ukraine as well as allow to use its airports.
‘We significantly help in many other areas.’
General Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is seen in Lithuania on Sunday
Milley speaks at the training range in Pabrade, some 38 miles north of the capital Vilnius
A Polish official told The Financial Times: ‘Poland is not in a state of war with Russia, but it is not an impartial country, because it supports Ukraine as the victim of aggression.
‘It considers, however, that all military matters must be a decision of NATO as a whole.’
General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Sunday visited a training centre in Pabrade, Lithuania.
U.S. troops were pictured in Romania on Sunday, having been sent there several weeks ago by President Joe Biden.
Biden spent the weekend at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, and on Saturday attended St. Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic Church with his family.
Later on Saturday night he spoke to Zelensky, in an almost 40-minute conversation from 6.18pm to 6.50pm.
Joe and Jill Biden are seen on Sunday night returning to the White House after a weekend in Delaware
The Ukrainian leader fears Russia may soon begin a massive bombardment from the air, after their ground offensive appears to be making far slower progress than the Kremlin had anticipated.
Meanwhile, devastating images and videos on Sunday laid bare the horror of Vladimir Putin’s lawless invasion of Ukraine, as Russian troops unleashed heavy gunfire and missiles on local residents.
Heartbreaking footage, taken in Irpin, located on the outskirts of the besieged capital city Kyiv, confirmed that Russian forces were attacking heavily-populated civilian areas.
One image depicted a mother and her two children lying dead on the pavement in Irpin, killed after they tried to flee the city.
Blinken said there are ‘very credible reports’ that Russia has committed war crimes during its invasion of Ukraine – particularly in attacking civilians.
A second attempt on Sunday to evacuate refugees from Mariupol was scuppered again after the city was shelled just minutes into an agreed ceasefire.
Some 400,000 residents were hoped to be evacuated from 12pm, with an initial agreement in place until 9pm, but residents were on Sunday night having to take cover in bomb shelters without electricity and water.
It followed similar attempts on Saturday when plans to evacuate refugees were halted when shelling recommenced 45 minutes into a ceasefire.