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NATO Countries Wary Of “Inadvertently Escalating This War” Amid Heightened Calls To Give Jets To Poland

Poland has agreed to offer its MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian air force, but only via the US (Alamy)

4 min read

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said the UK and NATO allies must be sure they are "not inadvertently doing something which escalates this war” with their actions in Ukraine that would spark a global conflict.

He was speaking after the row over providing Vladimir Zelenskyy with more fighter jets took another turn overnight, as America appeared to reject Poland’s offer of its planes to then send on to Kyiv.

Shapps told Sky News all NATO partners "work together" on the situation in Ukraine, as a "a defensive organisation" that does not get involved in the war.

There is concern that providing jets to Poland, to allow them to share theirs with Ukraine, would be viewed by Russia as an intervention by NATO countries in the war, and could provoke global conflict. 

Having initially refused to hand over its fleet of MiG-29s, which are the only type of plane the Ukrainian air force can use, Poland yesterday said they were now willing to make them available – but only via the US.

However last night John Kirby, Pentagon Press Secretary, said: “The prospect of fighter jets ‘at the disposal of the government of the United States of America’ departing from a US/NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.”

He said it is "not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it”, and while they will continue to consult with Poland “we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one”.

This morning Shapps appeared to share Kirby’s standpoint, saying the world needs to be careful not to escalate the war. 

"We need to make sure that in our absolutely stringent support for Ukraine, who are not a NATO member, we are not inadvertently doing something which escalates this war in a way that would be unacceptable to the entire world,” the Cabinet minister said. 

"We're being rightly careful and cautious, are providing huge amounts of humanitarian aid, providing military support as well – but not involving ourselves directly in the fighting."

Last night the UK government made it a criminal offence for any Russian aircraft to enter UK airspace, saying it sends the "clearest signal of all" to oligarchs trying to fly into the country.

The new measures allow for planes to be seized, and the transport secretary revealed on BBC Breakfast he has "essentially" impounded one plane already, with an investigation into its ownership now taking place.

The foreign secretary Liz Truss also announced a ban on the export of aviation and space-related goods and technology, and on UK companies providing insurance and re-insurance services in relation to these.

She is set to meet with officials in Washington later today to discuss further support for Ukraine.

Back in the UK, the defence secretary Ben Wallace will update MPs on the support being offered by Britain to the Ukrainian forces.

The UK continues to face criticism over its visa limitations in response to the refugee crisis sparked by the conflict. The UN refugee agency has estimated around 2.2 million refugees will have fled Ukraine by today, and it does "not see it stopping”.

Shapps told Sky News the UK has granted 760 visas so far, with 22,000 applications “on their way through”.

He defended the government’s record, saying no country has given more humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and suggested that Zelenskyy would prefer people to settle in neighbouring countries and not all the way west in Britain.

“We are really leaning into this, at the same time respecting Ukraine’s wishes, the government’s wishes, not to pull people a long way away from Ukraine,” the Cabinet minister added.

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