Sen. Mitt Romney had a terse message for the Biden administration Thursday over shutting down a Polish proposal to provide Ukraine with MiG fighter jets: “Get them the aircraft.”
The Pentagon rejected the idea Wednesday, saying allied efforts against the Russian invasion should be focused on more useful weaponry and the MiG transfer with a U.S. and NATO connection would run a “high risk” of escalating the war, The Associated Press reported.
“I simply do not understand the logic for not getting the MiGs to the Ukrainians immediately. There is no logic which has been provided to this committee or to the nation for the lack of rapidity in making this decision. It makes no sense,” Romney, R-Utah, said in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pleaded repeatedly for the U.S. to provide his military with more aircraft — presented as an apparent alternative to establishing a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine to suppress Russian air power, the AP reported. The “no-fly” idea was turned down earlier by Washington and NATO as an unnecessary risk of escalation.
“I believe there’s a sentiment that we’re fearful about what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin might do. And what he might consider as an escalation. It’s time for him to be fearful of what we might do,” Romney said.
Later Thursday, Romney joined a group of Republican senators at news conference pressing President Joe Biden to reverse course and get the Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. would give Poland the “green light” to send the planes to Ukraine, but that changed when the transfer was to go through the United States.
“What’s the difference between Poland giving them the jets and us giving them the jets?” he asked. “I think the Russians threatened the Poles and the Poles were looking for America to have their back, and we folded like a cheap suit.”
The GOP senators said the U.S. and NATO have already imposed economic sanctions on Russia and supplied Ukraine with weapons and supplies, and a squadron of fighter jets would do nothing to further provoke Putin.
In the Senate hearing, Romney told State Department and Defense Department officials that Congress needs to know the reason why the planes have not already been transferred to Ukraine, even if it has to be done in a classified setting.
“I would request that as you return to the State Department, you indicate to them that we, this committee, deserve a response because ... our caucuses on both sides of the aisle are united on this. Get them the aircraft,” Romney said.
“This is war. People are dying. We need to get this aircraft immediately to the people of Ukraine. That’s what they are asking for.”
In a tweet after the hearing, Romney said, “President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian forces know what’s best for their own war. They know the conditions on the ground.”
Romney also said he would anticipate the U.S. making adjustments to its military strategy with regards to Moldova, Georgia and the Balkans. He said he believes it’s clear that Putin is trying to reestablish the boundaries of the former Soviet Union and bring more countries under his control.
“And that’s unacceptable. What happens in Ukraine could spread to other places,” he said. “What do we do militarily to prepare them for or to make them less vulnerable to his attack?”
Jessica Lewis, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said the administration is thinking through how to make sure the eastern flank is shored up. She said there’s about $200 million in presidential drawdown authority — money available for peacekeeping operations among other things — in the proposed short-term government spending resolution and “potentially billions” in the final appropriations bill.
Romney said those are “very small” numbers to help those nations defend themselves.
The omnibus spending bill contains $3 billion in presidential drawdown assistance and $500 million in foreign military funds, Lewis said.
“We can use those funds as well for the Eastern flank countries,” she said. “I think lessons learned from this conflict will apply in terms of both training and the type of equipment they need.”
A $350 million security assistance package approved for Ukraine approved last week was the largest presidential drawdown package in history, according to the Defense Department.
A $240 million package, including things like anti-armor capability, was previously sent to Ukraine to support its fight against the unprovoked Russian invasion.