In a rare sign of disunity among NATO allies, the Defense Department on Tuesday rejected an unexpected offer by Poland to have the U.S. take custody ofSoviet-era fighter jets that would be transferred to Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
U.S. officials said they were blindsided by Poland’s announcement, which differed from a previous proposal to have Warsaw deliver the MiG-29 jets to Kyiv directly.
“We will continue to consult with Poland and our other NATO allies about this issue and the difficult logistical challenges it presents, but we do not believe Poland’s proposal is a tenable one,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
The U.S. has said it would support Poland’s or another NATO member’s sending jets to Ukraine but has given no indication it would act as an intermediary.
A U.S. official said: “The Pentagon and State Department were not consulted by Poland about this announcement. … Both departments found out about it when Poland made the announcement today.”
The discord between two NATO members came as the U.S. and some of its European allies sought to form a united front on imposing further economic pain on Russia.
The Biden administration announced it was banning imports of Russian oil as Washington, and Europe continued to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies with crippling sanctions.
“We’re banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday from the White House. “That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at U.S. ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded by praising the U.S. for taking “a step that will significantly weaken the occupiers, will make them pay for the aggression, answer for the evil that they have done.”
“I am personally thankful to the United States president, Biden, for this decision,” he added, according to an NBC News translation of his remarks on Telegram.
Latest developments on Ukraine:
- The U.S. moved to ban imports of Russian oil, while the U.K. said it will phase out Russian oil and oil products this year.
- Moscow threatened to stop the flow of gas through pipelines from Russia to Europe.
- Poland agreed to a deal that would bolster Ukraine’s air force by giving Kyiv its Russian-made MiG-29 fighter planes.
- Russia and Ukraine agreed to a humanitarian corridor in the northeastern city of Sumy, where strikes overnight hit residential buildings and killed civilians, Ukrainian officials said.
- Two million people have now fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, the U.N. refugee agency said.
- Coca-Cola announced it was suspending its business in Russia, while Pepsico said it was halting beverage sales.
Ukraine accused Russia of targeting civilians as it began evacuating residents Tuesday from the besieged city of Sumy along the first safe corridor to have been created since Moscow invaded its democratic neighbor nearly two weeks ago, sparking the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
While fierce Ukrainian resistance has been able to stall the Russian ground assault, Moscow was ramping up its air attacks and fueling an exodus of refugees that has reached 2 million, more than half of them seeking sanctuary in neighboring Poland.
Inna Sovsun, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament, accused Putin of deliberately terrorizing civilians both from the air and on the ground.
“It seems that Putin’s plans of blitzkrieg have failed, and because they have failed so badly, the Russian soldiers are now turning into cruelty,” Sovsun said on MSNBC. “We have heard from some Russian soldiers who have been held prisoners by the Ukrainian army who directly said that Russian officers are telling their soldiers to shoot at civilians.”
CIA Director William Burns echoed Sovsun’s dire assessment in an appearance Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee.
“I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now,” Burns said. “He is likely to double down and try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties.”
But as Ukraine entered its 13th day of war, Zelenskyy invoked Winston Churchill’s famous 1940 rallying cry against the Nazis in a defiant speech that he delivered from his Kyiv office to the British Parliament by video link.
“We will not surrender,” Zelenskyy said in Ukrainian to thunderous applause. “We will not fail. We will fight till the end. We will fight on the seas, in the air and defend our land at any cost. We will fight in the forests, fields, beaches, cities, villages, on the streets. We will fight in the hills.”
In Washington, Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier of the Defense Intelligence Agency told lawmakers that 2,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers had been killed thus far.
The beleaguered and outgunned Ukrainian air force got a big shot in the arm Tuesday when Poland announced that it would give the Zelenskyy government all of its Russian-made MiG-29 fighter planes.
In return, the Poles said the U.S. had agreed to provide them with “used aircraft with corresponding operational capabilities.”
It was not immediately clear how many MiG-29s the Poles will deliver to the U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany. Poland has been encouraging other former Soviet-bloc countries to do the same.
Russia and Ukraine agreed to a cease-fire in the northeastern city of Sumy early Tuesday to let civilians escape after another night of heavy shelling by Russian forces. Failed efforts to evacuate people trapped in other hard-hit areas across the country have left them without heat, electricity, water and food.
“Let’s try again,” Zelenskyy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. As of Tuesday afternoon local time, the cease-fire seemed to be holding.
Video posted by the Ukrainian state communications agency showed people in Sumy carrying bags as they stood in the snow to board buses. Those on board waiting to depart for the Ukrainian city of Poltava wore masks and sat surrounded by bags.
The evacuation from Sumy, which included around 20 buses of foreign students, began after the city faced an overnight barrage, with Russian strikes targeting residential buildings and killing more than a dozen people, including two children, according to Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the interior ministry.
NBC News has not verified the numbers of people killed. Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians.
It was not clear how long the evacuation effort would last or whether it would extend to other cities.
Moscow had offered to allow civilians to travel safely on designated routes from some areas that led to Russia or its close ally Belarus — an offer Ukraine rejected.
In Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, around 3,000 people left and boarded buses headed toward the capital, the interior ministry said on social media. Elderly and vulnerable people were among those fleeing nearby Russian forces, although a humanitarian corridor there was not officially in effect, officials said.
In the south, efforts to secure safe passage from the encircled port city of Mariupol appeared to have failed once again.
Mariupol faces an extreme humanitarian crisis, and several attempts at evacuations over the weekend ended when Ukrainian authorities accused Russian forces of continuing to shell the area.
The foreign ministry accused Russia of violating another cease-fire agreement by shelling the humanitarian corridor where eight trucks and 30 buses were ready to deliver aid and evacuate residents.