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GOP senators demand that U.S. help transfer fighter jets to Ukraine

More than 40 Republicans are questioning why the administration is refusing to aid in the delivery of MiGs to Ukraine.
Image: Mariupol
A lone bicyclist passes an apartment building damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday. Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

WASHINGTON — More than 40 Senate Republicans are calling on the Biden administration to assist in the transfer of Soviet-era aircraft to Ukraine so it can defend itself against Russian forces.

"So far, Russian forces have been stymied by stiff Ukrainian resistance, and we must redouble our efforts to prevent a brutal and unlawful takeover of Ukraine. We urge your administration to work with Poland and our NATO allies to expedite the transfer of urgently-needed airpower, air defense systems and other combat and support capabilities from the United States, NATO allies, and other European partners to Ukraine," the senators wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday.

The letter, signed by 42 Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, came after U.S. officials rejected a proposal from Poland to transfer its Soviet-era MiG fighter jets to Ukraine through a U.S. military base in Germany.

The Defense Department has said such a handover would be a “high risk” step that could ratchet up tensions with Russia and risk direct military conflict.

If Ukrainian pilots go to a NATO country to pick up fighter jets and then fly them back into contested Ukrainian airspace, where they might have to engage with Russian fighters, Western officials worry, Moscow could view the country they left from as a combatant and therefore fair game. And NATO’s core tenet, spelled out in Article 5 of its charter, is that an attack on any member country is an attack on all, meaning all 30 member states would be obligated to join the fight.

U.S. military and intelligence officials have also determined that more jets are unlikely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian air force, and experts outside the government have noted that Ukraine hasn’t deployed many of the MiGs it already owns. That has made them wonder whether the country has the complex infrastructure needed to support the aircraft, from trained pilots and mechanics to extra parts, munitions and jet fuel.

The senators, however, said in their letter that the explanation they received from the Pentagon about why the U.S. has declined Poland's plan isn't adequate.

“Send these MiGs," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said at a news conference Thursday with other GOP colleagues. "And the question is, well, why aren’t they being sent? Because we’ve heard now for days that this is something that’s being discussed. Enough talk. People are dying, send them the planes that they need."

"That’s what they say they want," he added. "They’re there. They have the eyes to determine what they want."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it was a "good day for Putin, bad day for the Ukraine and a dishonorable day for America" because the U.S. is not providing Ukraine with aircraft to defend its airspace.

The eight GOP senators who did not sign the letter were Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma; Bill Hagerty of Tennessee; Jerry Moran of Kansas; Rand Paul of Kentucky; Mike Rounds of South Dakota; Mike Lee of Utah; Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming; and Roy Blunt of Missouri.