Biden’s immoral decision to deny Ukraine jets repeats Obama’s mistakes

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Every so often you come across a decision so stupid that only a politician could have come up with it. For reasons best known to itself, the Biden administration has blocked Poland’s desire to give MiG fighter jets to its Ukrainian neighbors to help them fight the Russian invaders.

I’ve been emotionally invested in Ukraine since I was one of the first journalists to report from the occupied east of the country almost eight years ago. Since the end of last month, amid the chaos and violence unleashed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, I’ve been delighted to see our Ukrainian allies put up such a strong fight.

Putin thought his troops would be drinking Champagne in Kyiv within 72 hours. Instead, they’re eating mud outside Kharkiv after two weeks. Ukrainians have done so well because they’re brave and tough and fighting on their own turf against forces who seek to subjugate them.

But Ukrainians are also still in the fight because we — the West, in particular the United Kingdom and the United States — have been supplying them with everything from intelligence to cash to Javelin and Stinger missiles. With us behind them, the Ukrainians are sending Russian heavy armor to the hell it so richly deserves.

Which is why I felt a mix of rage, depression and sheer incredulity when I read that the White House had blocked the delivery of MiG fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine.

A Ukrainian service member unpacks Javelin anti-tank missiles, delivered by plane as part of the U.S. military support package for Ukraine, at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine February 10, 2022.
A Ukrainian service member unpacks Javelin anti-tank missiles, delivered by plane as part of the US military support package for Ukraine, at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine on Feb. 10, 2022.
REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Ukraine needs these jets desperately. While its forces are fighting valiantly on the ground, the skies still belong to the Russians, who use them to bomb civilians with fastidious sadism. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded for a no-fly zone to stop this. An NFZ is a space in which certain types of aircraft are banned from operating: Practically it would require NATO forces to shoot down Russian planes flying over Ukraine if necessary.

It would be a huge escalation and run the risk of open war between Russia and NATO, which could be globally catastrophic. NATO has refused and — with a heavy heart — I can understand why.


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So if we aren’t going to close Ukraine’s skies to the Russian air force, the least we can do is help the Ukrainians do it themselves.

But clearly President Joe Biden had other ideas. On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said any transfer risked triggering a broader conflict. “The intelligence community has assessed the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO,” he said.

Poland had been pushing to deliver these planes since the start of the fighting. Ukrainian pilots are far more familiar with these Soviet-designed jets than Western planes. This was just about their only shot. Now, thanks to political cowardice, it’s gone.

Polish Air Force MiG-29
Poland offered to transfer 28 MiG-29 fighter jets to a US airbase in Germany in order to help Ukraine fight off the Russian attack.
REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

The decision is not only morally abhorrent but strategically cretinous. Putin now knows the limits of our actions. He now knows he’s free to carry on bombing Ukrainians with impunity. With the ground war going so badly, it is most probably only from the skies that he can turn things to his advantage — and we have given him carte blanche to do it.

This reminds me of former President Barack Obama’s red line to the murderous Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad: Use chemical weapons and we will bomb you. Assad duly used them. Soon, French and US jets stood ready on the runway to enforce that line — and with the credibility of the West and all right-thinking people at stake — but Obama, again for reasons best known to himself, chickened out and called off the strikes at the last minute.

The rest is history. Assad used chemical weapons again — and then again. Russia bombed Syrian civilians without mercy. Today Assad remains in power, and the Russians are using their bases in Syria to support their violence in Ukraine.

A map of Russian attacks on Ukraine as of March 10, 2022.
Russia continued its invasion of Ukraine on March 10, 2022.

It’s clear that Biden has learned nothing from Obama’s mistakes — nothing. And it is not just the Ukrainians who will pay for his folly but all those who seek to stand against tyranny and murder.

The world is a far less safe place today — and the reason for that is the man who sits not in Moscow but in Washington.

David Patrikarakos is the author of “War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century.”



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