Commentary on Political Economy

Friday, 11 March 2022

 

The Ukraine MiG-29 Fiasco Gets Worse

Biden personally vetoed the delivery of jets for fear of provoking Putin.

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A view of MIG-29 fighter jets of Polish Air Forces at 22nd Air Base Command in Malbork, Poland, Aug. 27, 2021.

PHOTO: ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

It turns out the U.S. decision to deny Polish MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine is even worse than we wrote Thursday. The White House is now confirming that the decision went all the way up to President Biden, who vetoed the jet delivery lest it provoke Vladimir Putin and risk escalating the war.

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The logic seems to be that sending lethal anti-aircraft and antitank weapons won’t provoke the Russian, but 28 fixed-wing aircraft would. That distinction is hard to parse, especially when the Pentagon is also saying that the Ukrainians don’t need the jets because their other weapons are more effective. So sending less lethal aircraft will lead to World War III, but not arms that are really deadly?

The bigger problem is the message this fiasco sends to Mr. Putin about NATO. The essence of credible deterrence is making an adversary believe that taking certain actions will draw a response. By so ostentatiously not sending the fighters, and saying the reason is fear of escalation, Mr. Biden is telling the Russian what he doesn’t have to worry about. Instead of deterring Mr. Putin, Mr. Biden is letting the Russian deter the U.S.

This is becoming a pattern with the Commander in Chief. In Afghanistan he demanded a quick and dirty exit by a date certain lest he provoke the Taliban who had taken over the government. The result was an American humiliation that may have influenced Mr. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

This month the Administration stopped the scheduled test of a U.S. nuclear missile after Mr. Putin issued a vague nuclear threat. The test had nothing to do with Ukraine, and Russia knew about it, but the Biden Pentagon stopped the test anyway. That’s another blow to the credibility of U.S. deterrence.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin is escalating his Ukraine assault in any case. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted Thursday that the Russians deliberately targeted the maternity hospital in Mariupol. Mr. Putin knows what NATO won’t do to stop him.

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