US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on Sunday that the US is looking into ways that Poland could provide Ukraine with aircraft and the US could provide Poland with aircraft in return.
"We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland decided to use those – to supply those planes," said Blinken during a press conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu. "I can’t speak to a timeline, but I can just tell you we’re looking at it very, very actively."
Blinken added that the US has provided over a billion dollars in security assistance to Ukraine and is working with Ukrainian officials to get an up-to-the-minute assessment of their needs.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked for a no-fly zone to be designated or for additional aircraft to be provided to Ukraine during a Zoom meeting with US congresspeople on Saturday.
Zelensky stressed to US congressmen that Ukraine needs its airspace secured in order to protect civilians and critical infrastructure, adding that this could be done with either a no-fly zone or by providing Ukraine with Soviet-made aircraft, according to the Ukrainian president's website.
Ukrainian pilots have been trained to fly Russian-made aircraft, meaning that such aircraft are the only ones that could be quickly brought into use by Ukrainian armed forces.
The US is discussing the possibility of providing Poland with F-16s if Warsaw sends Soviet-made aircraft it owns to Ukraine, but a White House spokesperson stressed that there were "a number of challenging practical questions, including how the planes could actually be transferred from Poland to Ukraine," according to the Financial Times.
A number of Eastern European countries, including Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia, possess dozens of Russian-made aircraft but have expressed reservations about providing these aircraft to Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.
The work by the US comes after the European Union initially promised to provide Ukraine with fighter jets and then backtracked, saying it did not have sufficient financial means to pay for the aircraft. At the time, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia, which were reportedly going to provide the aircraft, denied that they would be doing so, according to Politico.
Ukrainian officials have repeatedly called for the West to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine, while Western officials have rejected the requests, saying that such a move would mean entering a direct military conflict with Russia.
Zelensky tweeted early Sunday morning that he had spoken with US President Joe Biden about issues of security and financial support for Ukraine, as well as the continuation of sanctions against Russia.
As part of the constant dialogue, I had another conversation with @POTUS. The agenda included the issues of security, financial support for Ukraine and the continuation of sanctions against Russia.— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 6, 2022
The White House stated after the call that Biden noted his administration is pushing security, humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine and is working closely with Congress to secure additional funding. Biden and Zelensky also discussed recent talks between Russia and Ukraine.
The US president also welcomed the decision by Visa and Mastercard on Saturday night to suspend service in Russia.