The U.S. is working with Poland and consulting with other NATO allies on possibly having those countries supply warplanes to Ukraine for use against Russian forces, a White House spokesperson said.
The idea, though rejected by several eastern European members of the alliance this week, was floated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a video call with a large group of U.S. lawmakers on Saturday. Several said afterward that they support an aircraft transfer, which could involve Russian-made planes on which Ukrainian pilots are trained.
President Joe Biden’s administration is considering finding replacements for any fighter jets Poland might send from its fleet to Ukraine, the spokesperson said. The decision is Poland’s to make, the spokesperson said, adding that there are logistical and other challenges, including how to transfer aircraft from Poland to Ukraine.
“It’s no secret that the highest demand that we have is in fighting jets, attack aircrafts and air defense systems,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Polish-Ukrainian border on Saturday.
The discussion involves the possibility of sending the countries, including Poland and Slovakia, F-16 fighter jets to replace what they send Ukraine, a person familiar with the matter said. But the F-16 process would be time-consuming and involve bidding for and awarding a contract, as well as building planes specific to that country and providing training.
With almost 300 members of the Senate and House on the video call, Zelenskiy won pledges of support for more weaponry while facing reluctance on his appeal for NATO powers to enforce an exclusion zone for Russia’s air force. NATO and the U.S. say that declaring a no-fly zone would risk getting into a war with Russia.
By contrast, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he supports the warplanes plan.
Zelenskiy “made a desperate plea for Eastern European countries to provide Russian-made planes to Ukraine,” Schumer said in a statement. “These planes are very much needed. And I will do all I can to help the administration to facilitate their transfer.”
Zelenskiy addressed U.S. lawmakers as they consider President Joe Biden’s request for an extra $10 billion in funding to respond to the Russian invasion and while the administration weighs a ban on Russian oil imports.
The Ukrainian leader asked for the U.S. to stop importing Russian oil and gas and urged lawmakers to press companies such as Visa Inc. and Mastercard Inc. to stop all business in Russia.
Hours later, the two companies said they’re moving to suspend operations involving Russia.
Representative Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat, said he would support the aircraft transfer and that it wouldn’t cross Biden’s line of avoiding direct U.S. involvement. Transferring surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-tank weaponry to Ukrainian forces would potentially be more important, he said.
“We should be encouraging that and potentially reimbursing” the countries for the transfers, Malinowski said in an interview.
Other members of Congress endorsed the move, including Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat and member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said the U.S. should send the Ukrainians planes, helicopters and drones.
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said in a statement he asked Zelenskiy “about the need for the United States to ban Russian energy imports and he wholeheartedly agreed.”
Manchin is part of a bipartisan group of senators who have introduced legislation to block the flow of Russian oil and gas into the U.S.