Russia accused of striking maternity hospital in Ukrainian port cityget the free app
A maternity hospital in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has been attacked by Russia in a "direct strike," Ukraine said Wednesday. "People, children are under the wreckage," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted, calling it an "atrocity."
He shared a video showing sweeping destruction inside a facility: blown-out windows, shattered glass and scattered debris. Outside: charred cars and damaged trees. Ukrainian officials said at least 17 people were wounded in the attack, according to The Associated Press.
Ukrainian authorities warned, meanwhile, that power had been cut to the Russian-held Chernobyl nuclear power plant, risking the possible release of a "radioactive cloud" if cooling systems can't be kept on line. Fears, however, were played down by the global nuclear agency.
The developments came as the U.S. and NATO wrestled with how to help Ukraine defend itself from Russia's brutal aerial assault without becoming ensnared in a potentially much wider war.
With Russian forces massed around the capital, Kyiv, "failing to make any significant breakthroughs," according to the latest British intelligence assessment, Putin has relied on his military's overwhelming firepower to batter Ukrainian cities from afar. Ukraine says the indiscriminate artillery barrage has killed thousands of civilians, left entire cities cut off from food, water and electricity. More than 2 million people have fled into neighboring countries in a refugee crisis that grows by the hour.
Cease-fires in a handful of major Ukrainian cities appeared to be largely holding Wednesday, allowing civilians to flee neighborhoods that have been pounded for days by Russian artillery.
Up to 6,000 Russians have died since attack on Ukraine began, U.S. official estimates
Between 5,000 and 6,000 Russian troops have been killed in the first two weeks of the invasion of Ukraine, a U.S. official estimated Wednesday. The official called them "very, very significant casualties," and compared them to the losses of some World War II battles.
The official did not give an estimate for the number of wounded Russians, but the figure in most wars is generally around three times as many killed, putting the number at an estimated 15,000 to 18,000.
More than 1,000 people have died in Mariupol, Ukrainian president's office says
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's office said about 1,200 people have died over the course of Russia's nine-day siege of Mariupol, according to the Associated Press. The city's maternity hospital was subjected to Russian airstrikes on Wednesday, which left at least 17 people wounded, officials said.
Nationwide, thousands are thought to have been killed, both civilians and soldiers, since Putin's forces invaded. The U.N. estimates more than 2 million people have fled the country, the biggest exodus of refugees in Europe since the end of World War II.
Russia risks "imminent" default on its debt, Wall Street analysts say
With Russia's economy groaning under Western sanctions, the nation is in danger of defaulting on its debt, say ratings agencies and Wall Street firms.
Russia has about $700 million in payments on debt coming due in March, analysts at JPMorgan noted last week. Most of these payments have a 30-day grace period, which means Russia could default as early as mid-April.
"Sanctions imposed on Russia have significantly increased the likelihood of a Russia government hard currency bond default. The sanctioning of Russian government entities by the U.S., counter-measures within Russia to restrict foreign payments, and disruptions of payment chains present high hurdles for Russia to make a bond payment abroad," the investment firm said.
Read the full story here.
Psaki says Russia could possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine
White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Wednesday afternoon that everyone should be "on the lookout" for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine. Psaki said the Biden administration is taking note of Russia's false claims about biological weapons labs in Ukraine.
She called Russia's claims "false" and said Chinese officials are repeating the "conspiracy theories."
"This is all an obvious ploy by Russia to try to justify its further premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine," Psaki wrote.
"Now that Russia has made these false claims, and China has seemingly endorsed this propaganda, we should all be on the lookout for Russia to possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them," she said. "It's a clear pattern."
The State Department also condemned Russia's false claims.
"The United States does not own or operate any chemical or biological laboratories in Ukraine," State Department spokesman Ned Price said. "It is in full compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention, and it does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere. It is Russia that has active chemical and biological weapons programs and is in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention."
Polish fighter jet proposal is "high risk," U.S. intelligence community concludes
The Pentagon on Wednesday closed the door on Poland's proposal to transfer fighter jets through the U.S. to Ukraine because such a transfer risks a significant Russian reaction.
"The intelligence community has assessed the transfer of MiG-29s to Ukraine may be mistaken as escalatory and could result in significant Russian reaction and might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a press briefing.
The Polish government on Tuesday issued a statement that proposed transferring all of its MiG-29 fighter jets, which the Ukrainians are trained on, to the U.S., who could then decide whether to send them to Ukraine. The U.S. was not consulted ahead of the statement.
Kirby said the U.S. is going to continue to send defensive assistance, like anti-tank weapons and air defense, which are proving effective against the Russians. And the Ukrainian air force currently has several squadrons of fully mission capable aircraft.
"We assess that adding aircraft to the Ukrainian inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian air force relative to Russian capabilities," Kirby said.
Hilton suspending "developmental activity" in Russia, donating rooms to Ukrainian refugees
Hilton Worldwide Hotels announced Wednesday that is suspending "developmental activity" in Russia and closing its corporate office in Moscow in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It will also offer up to 1 million room nights to Ukrainian refugees and "humanitarian relief efforts across Europe."
"Hilton joins those around the world in shock and disbelief at the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine," a statement from the company read.
Although it closed its offices in Russia's capital, Hilton said it would continue to pay employees there. And it said it will donate all of its earnings in Russia to humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine.
USAID partner killed in Ukraine, administrator says
A Ukrainian woman who worked as an implementing partner for the United States Agency for International Development in her homeland has died. Valeriia "Lera" Maksetska was killed by the Russian military while trying to evacuate her mother from Kyiv, USAID administrator Samantha Power tweeted Wednesday.
Maksetska was born in Donetsk and helped with the humanitarian response to the Russian invasion in 2014. She eventually moved to Kyiv and joined the USAID, "where she became beloved as 'a brave woman with a kind heart,'" Power wrote.
When Russia began its attack on Ukraine two weeks ago, Maksetska stayed in Kyiv to help, Power said. However, she decided to evacuate when her mother ran out of her medication. The two women and their driver were in a car waiting for a Russian convoy to pass when a tank fired on them, and all three died, Power said. Maksetska was about to turn 32.
"We celebrate her fierce dedication to Ukraine & joyful spirit," Power wrote. "As Lera wrote when Kyiv was attacked, she was angry at the awful violence 'but so proud to be a Ukrainian & live someplace where beliefs matter.'"
At least 17 people wounded in airstrike on maternity hospital, Ukrainian officials say
A Russian airstrike on a Mariupol maternity hospital Wednesday morning wounded at least 17 people, Ukrainian officials told the Associated Press.
Mariupol has been caught in the crosshairs of Russian airstrikes for days. On Tuesday, efforts to evacuate residents and deliver badly needed food, water and medicine failed because of what the Ukrainians said were continued Russian attacks.
However, the city took advantage of a lull in the shelling Wednesday to hurriedly bury 70 people. Some were soldiers, but most were civilians.
Chief accountant of Bay Area company and her 2 kids killed in Ukraine
Tatiana Perebeinis, chief accountant of the SEO software company SE Ranking, and her two children were killed in Ukraine on Sunday as they were trying to evacuate from Irpin, a city near Kyiv, according to the company. It says they were killed by Russian artillery.
"There are no words to describe our grief or to mend our pain," the company said in a Facebook post. "But for us, it is crucial to not let Tania and her kids Alise and Nikita remain just statistics. Her family became the victim of the unprovoked fire on civilians, which under any law is a crime against humanity."
The company says Ukrainians are part of its team, and that its headquarters are in Palo Alto.
"We don't just read about the russian invasion in the news, we witness it daily," it said. "And we know for sure-the nature of the russian army's actions is criminal and inhuman. We condemn any attempt to justify it."
Europe faces pressure to join U.S., British ban on Russian oil
Europe faces a tough choice: Is it worth a recession to choke off oil and gas money to Russia while it fights a war in Ukraine?
While U.S. and British bans on Russian oil increase the pressure on Europe to follow suit, the continent's dependence on Russia for energy makes an immediate embargo much more difficult. Still, some officials say it is the only way to stop pouring billions in oil and gas revenue into President Vladimir Putin's coffers, despite the near certainty of record inflation worsening.
Europe gets around 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, whereas the U.S. gets meager amounts of oil and no natural gas. An EU boycott would mean higher prices at the pump and on utility bills, and ultimately the threat of an energy crisis and recession while the economy is still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic.
"The consequences to the European economy would be major," said Simone Tagliapietra, an energy policy expert at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels. "And therefore, there would need to be an upfront, clear, political decision that we are willing to compromise our economy, we are willing to afford a recession, in order to hit Putin where it hurts."
U.S. President Joe Biden acknowledged as much when he announced the U.S. ban on Russian oil imports, saying "many of our European allies and partners will not be able to join us."
WHO confirms 18 attacks on Ukrainian hospitals and ambulances
Russia's assault on Ukraine has included multiple attacks against Ukrainian hospitals, ambulances and health workers, the World Health Organization said Wednesday. In the two weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion, WHO has confirmed 18 attacks on health providers.
Those attacks have resulted in at least 10 deaths and 16 injuries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
"These attacks deprive all communities of health care," he said, adding that the "only real solution to the situation is peace."
Pictures show damage, injured women at maternity hospital in Mariupol
U.S. sending 2 Patriot missile batteries to Poland
The U.S. is deploying two Patriot missile batteries to Poland to bolster defenses on NATO territory as Russia continues its assault in Ukraine.
U.S. European Command confirmed the "defensive deployment" of the surface-to-air missile batteries on Wednesday, saying it was being done "proactively to counter any potential threat to U.S. and Allied forces and NATO territory."
A defense official said the batteries had been repositioned inside Poland.
"This is a prudent force protection measure that underpins our commitment to Article Five and will in no way support any offensive operations," the command said in a statement, referring to the provision in the NATO charter that requires members to come to the defense of other countries in the alliance. Ukraine is not a NATO member.
"Every step we take is intended to deter aggression and reassure our allies," the statement added.
The U.S. has sent thousands of troops to Poland and other NATO countries in Eastern Europe since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began nearly two weeks ago. President Biden has repeatedly stated that no U.S. troops would be involved in fighting inside Ukraine, but has reiterated the U.S. commitment to defend NATO territory from any Russian incursion.
Finnish airline suspends domestic route due to GPS signal interference near Russian border
Finland's flagship airline Finnair said Wednesday that its pilots had noticed interference with their planes' GPS signals near Russia's Kaliningrad enclave, according to the Reuters news agency, while a smaller domestic airline temporarily suspended flights from the eastern town of Savonlinna, near the Russian border, to the Finnish capital of Helsinki for the same reason.
Airline pilots have reported GPS signal errors in the area near Russian territory since Sunday, Finnish authorities said.
Finnish communications authority Traficom confirmed Tuesday that GPS disruptions have been recorded in eastern Finland, but declined to comment on how long or how wide the disruptions were.
Transaviabaltika, a Lithuanian airline that operates the domestic route with a small turboprop plane, said its pilots had tried landing several times at the Savonlinna airport since Sunday, but were forced to turn back to Helsinki each time as the GPS signal was disrupted.
Finland shares a 833-mile land border with Russia. The lakeside town of Savonlinna is a mere 43 miles from the border.
In late 2018, the Finnish government said the country's GPS location signals were intentionally disrupted in the northern Lapland region and the country's prime minister acknowledged that it was possible that Russia was the disrupting party.
At the same time, the Norwegian Defense Ministry said Russian forces in the Arctic disturbed GPS location signals during a large NATO drill in the country.
Russia admits conscript soldiers sent into Ukraine and some have been captured
Russia has admitted that conscript soldiers have been sent into Ukraine and that some have been captured by Ukrainian troops. The admission comes after President Vladimir Putin vowed that conscripts would not be deployed and that Russia would rely on its voluntary, professional troops.
"Unfortunately there have been detected several instances of the presence of conscript-service military personnel" within units in Ukraine, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said on Wednesday, adding that "almost all" of them had been recalled to Russia.
He acknowledged that some conscripts had been taken prisoner by Ukrainian forces while serving in a logistics unit and said efforts were under way to free them. Konashenkov didn't specify how many conscripts had served in Ukraine or how many were captured.
Ukrainians say Russian strike hit children's hospital in besieged port city of Mariupol
Ukrainian officials said Wednesday that a Russian strike had hit a children's hospital and maternity facility in the besieged southeastern port city of Mariupol. It was not immediately clear when the strike was carried out.
A statement on the city council's social media account on Wednesday said the hospital suffered "colossal" damage.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that there were "people, children under the wreckage." He called the strike an "atrocity" and renewed his plea for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine to stop the Russian airstrikes.
"You have power but you seem to be losing humanity," the president chided Western nations.
The deputy head of Zelensky's office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, said authorities were trying to establish the number of people who may have been killed or wounded.
Ukrainian-American scrambling to get family into U.S.: "They just turned us away"
When Maryna Seifi heard Russian forces were closing in on the Ukrainian city of Odesa, she told her two teenage relatives to go to Poland immediately. The Ukrainian-American was hoping to meet them there and then fly them to the U.S. — only to learn they were not allowed in America.
Seifi, who lives in California, said she told her 19-year-old sister Victoria and 16-year-old nephew Ilya to take the train to Poland and wait for her there.
"They were able to jump on the train and stay tight. There were a lot of people trying to get out," she told "CBS Mornings" co-host Tony Dokoupil in an interview near the Poland-Ukraine border. The moment the teens were safely on board, Seifi and her husband ran as well. They boarded the next flight from California to Poland, leaving behind their two children — the youngest just two years old.
"The directions were that, as soon as you get out of the train, you're not going to any volunteers. You sit there and you wait 10 days, 20 days, until your auntie comes to pick you up," she said.
They reunited five days ago on the train platform in the Polish city of Przemyśl, thinking the hard part was over. But that's where the family's luck ran out. Read the full story here, and watch Dokoupil's report below.
Shell-shocked Ukrainians take advantage of cease-fires to flee bombarded towns
There was a small classical music concert in central Kyiv's Maidan Square on Wednesday, with about 100 people coming out to enjoy a rare respite from the Ukrainian capital's new soundtrack of Russian shelling. CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D'Agata says the city is virtually empty. Thousands have fled, and many of those still in Kyiv are staying under shelter.
But others took advantage of a temporary break in the fighting to flee for their lives on Wednesday, even if it meant leaving somebody behind.
"It was so terrible," said one woman through tears. "I left my parents in Sumy. I hope I will see them another time."
D'Agata says Sumy has been the focus of some of the worst fighting. Like a handful of other cities where new cease-fires were declared on Wednesday, Sumy sits along the fault-line of the Russian forces' stalled advance, where Ukrainian troops have fought them to a standstill: Chernihiv to the north, Sumy in the northeast, Kharkiv to the east and Mariupol in the south — all of them near the Russian border.
In Irpin, on the outskirts of the capital, desperate residents took shelter from artillery fire under a collapsed bridge this week. D'Agata and his team met evacuees who had just made it out of the town.
Ohla Papina broke down in tears as she described terrifying nights of bombardment.
Nearby, a police officer bid farewell to his son before joining the reinforcements brought in as Russian forces advance on the capital. The toddler cried uncontrollably, refusing to accept what his father has to say.
D'Agata said it was unclear how long the cease-fires would hold, but the lull in fighting did at least give a chance for more residents to get away.
Mother describes fleeing Kyiv suburb of Irpin with family after 8 days in a basement
A mother who fled Irpin with her husband and two children last week said they decided to leave the city near Kyiv after spending eight days in their basement. The "boiling point" – when they made the decision to leave – was when they faced an attack near their home last Wednesday.
The subsequent journey, Olena Bukuyeva told CBS News, was long and dangerous.
She said they didn't know what to expect on the road – whether they would be shot by Russian troops as they tried to flee, or lose their vehicle. But with several others – including their neighbors – they fled, and managed to escape safely, Bukuyeva said.
Others, though, didn't make it out, according to her account.
"As far as we know, the next day after our evacuation, a family tried also to evacuate out of Irpin and all of them were shot on the road," she said. "We follow local chats where people are trying to find their families. … Whole families are missing, and we are not aware how many people are still there. … We understand that not all people can even get to the point of evacuation."
Hear more of her story:
Ukraine war helps push U.S. gas prices to another all-time high
A day after Americans faced the highest costs they've ever seen at the pump, gas prices jumped once again and set a new all-time record on Wednesday, according to AAA. The national average now stands at $4.25 per gallon, the highest ever following Tuesday's record of $4.17 per gallon.
Gas prices have been pushed higher due to Russia's war in Ukraine, which has raised concerns of possible disruptions to global crude supplies. But the cost of gasoline was rising even before the conflict, which began late last month. As the nation rebounded from the pandemic and lockdowns eased, Americans ventured out more — to stores, returning to work — pushing up gas consumption and leading to higher prices.
Before this week's record-setting prices, the previous high was $4.10 in July 2008, according to Bloomberg. (Adjusted for inflation, that remains the all-time high for fuel prices.)
World Economic Forum bars Russia from prestigious Davos gathering over Ukraine war
The World Economic Forum said Wednesday it was freezing all relations with Russian entities and would not allow anyone on the sanctions list to take part in the annual high-powered meeting in Davos.
"Following its condemnation of Russia's ongoing attack on Ukraine, the forum is complying with the evolving international sanctions and following the rapidly-developing situation," the WEF said in a statement sent to AFP.
"Therefore the forum freezes all its relations with Russian entities, and will not engage with any sanctioned individual or institution in any of our activities, inclusive the annual meeting" in Davos, it added.
The disinvite to Davos came amid a race by major international corporations to cut ties with Russia. Click here for a look at some of the biggest brands pulling out of the Russian market.
Fitch says Russian default on its national debt is "imminent"
Ratings agency Fitch on Tuesday again downgraded Russia's sovereign debt rating farther into junk territory from "B" to "C," saying the decision reflects the view that a default is "imminent."
Like other major ratings agencies, Fitch had already slashed Russia's rating earlier this month to "junk" status, or the category of countries at risk of not being able to repay their debt.
"The 'C' rating reflects Fitch's view that a sovereign default is imminent," the agency said in a statement, adding its new downgrade came because recent developments had "further undermined Russia's willingness to service government debt."
The agency said "the further ratcheting up of sanctions, and proposals that could limit trade in energy, increase the probability of a policy response by Russia that includes at least selective non-payment of its sovereign debt obligations."
On Tuesday, the United States and Britain announced they were cutting off Russian energy imports — the U.S. ban is effective immediately, while London said it would phase out oil imports by the end of the year.
If Russia were to default on a debt payment, it would be the first time since 1998.
Power cut to Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear plant risks release of "radioactive cloud," officials warn
The power supply was cut to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities said, blaming Russia's invading forces for the blackout and warning that it could lead to "nuclear discharge." Those fears were played down by the global nuclear agency, however.
Click here to read the full story.
If power to the plant's cooling systems, which prevent spent nuclear fuel from evaporating, is not ensured, a Ukrainian national emergency services agency said it could leave winds to blow a "radioactive cloud to other regions of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Europe."
The Chernobyl power plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1986, "was fully disconnected from the power grid," Ukraine's national energy operator Ukrenergo said Wednesday in a statement on its Facebook page, adding that military operations meant there was "no possibility to restore the lines."
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called "on the entire international community to immediately demand that Russia cease fire and allow repair crews to restore power as soon as possible" to Chernobyl. He said emergency backup generators may only work for 48 hours.
"After that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop, making radiation leaks imminent," Kuleba said in a series of tweets. "Putin's barbaric war puts entire Europe in danger. He must stop it immediately!"
The international nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, played down the alarm, however, saying the age of Chernobyl's spent fuel and the amount of water around the fuel in the plant's cooling tanks meant it would remain safe even without a power supply.
Fresh evacuation efforts for devastated Ukraine cities
Russia and Ukraine agreed to open more humanitarian corridors on Wednesday to evacuate terrified civilians from bombarded cities as Moscow said some progress was being made in talks with Kyiv. After air-raid sirens rang out again in Kyiv overnight, the plan was to open safe routes out of five Ukrainian areas including two suburbs of the capital that have been devastated by Russian shelling.
But previous ceasefire efforts have been bedevilled by violations, with Moscow apparently determined to push forward a 14-day-old invasion of its neighbor that has shocked the world.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Moscow vowed to respect the truce from 9:00 am to 9:00 p.m. around six areas that have been heavily hit by fighting.
She added that Ukraine has had a "negative experience" of ceasefires not being respected.
One of the evacuation routes on Wednesday is from Sumy, where some 5,000 civilians were able to escape on Tuesday, with about 60 buses able to leave the stricken town east of Kyiv near the Russian border, officials said.
For the first time the corridors also include Irpin, Bucha and Gostomel, a cluster of towns on the northwestern outskirts of Kyiv that have been largely occupied by Russian forces.
Russia accuses U.S. of waging "economic war" after Biden's ban on Russian fossil fuel imports
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the U.S. had declared "economic war" on Russia.
A day after President Biden announced a complete U.S. ban on imports of Russian gas, oil and coal, Peskov said the actions by Washington and its allies — who had hit Moscow with an unprecedented litany of sanctions even before the U.S. ban on fossil fuels — was making Russia "think carefully" about the situation.
"We have always said we were, are and will be a reliable energy supplier," Peskov told reporters in Moscow.
The spokesman for Vladimir Putin's government acknowledged the "turbulence" in global energy markets amid the standoff between his country and Western powers, and said it was "unclear how far" the fears over supply disruptions might impact the markets.
Russia stresses on interest in diplomacy with direct talks with Ukraine set to ramp up
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Russia was "interested in holding new rounds" of direct negotiations with Ukraine "as soon as the Ukrainian negotiators are ready for this."
There have been three rounds of direct negotiations so far between Ukrainian and Russian delegations, all of them in Belarus near Ukraine's border. They've yielded multiple agreements for "humanitarian corridors" to allow civilians to evacuate from Ukraine's artillery-battered cities, but most have been quickly failed with both sides accusing the other of breaching cease-fires.
The first significant success came Tuesday, when about 5,000 people were evacuated from the northeast city of Sumy, and there were more localized cease-fires and evacuation routes planned for Wednesday.
Peskov said a meeting set to take place Thursday in Turkey between the the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers — the highest-level talks scheduled since Russia launched its invasion — was "a very important continuation of the negotiation process."
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves," cautioned Peskov. "We'll wait for the meeting itself."
Russia says it will achieve its goal of a "neutral" Ukraine, but prefers to do so through negotiations
The spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry said Wednesday that while Moscow was determined to achieve its goal of ensuring that Ukraine adopts a "neutral status" — rejecting NATO membership — it would prefer to do that through negotiations rather than via military means, according to the Reuters news agency.
Maria Zakharova said Russia's objectives "do not include either the occupation of Ukraine or the destruction of its statehood, nor the overthrow of the current government" of pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelensky.
"We hope that a more significant step forward will be taken in the next rounds of negotiations," Zakharova told a press briefing, repeating Russia's consistent claim that it's "military operation" was "proceeding strictly according to the plan."
Vice President Harris heading to Poland as U.S. and NATO allies deliberate over fighter jets for Ukraine
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Poland on Wednesday to discuss how to provide "military assistance" for Ukraine, White House officials said, hours after Washington rejected Warsaw's offer to transfer more than two dozen of its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S. military at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
The trip was planned before Poland took the United States by surprise on Tuesday by offering to send its Mig-29s to Ramstein, with the intention being that the U.S. would then transfer them on to Ukraine.
Washington rejected the proposal, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby saying the prospect of the jets flying from a U.S.-NATO base "into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance."
Harris will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday, U.S. officials told AFP.
An advisor to Poland's president acknowledged the U.S. concerns earlier on Wednesday and said Poland was "ready to act, but only within the framework of the alliance, within the framework of NATO."
Pentagon shoots down Poland's proposal to transfer fighter jets
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby in a statement Tuesday evening said the Department of Defense does not view Poland's proposal to offer jets for Ukraine at the disposal of the U.S. "a tenable one."
Earlier on Tuesday, Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would be willing to transfer its MiG-29 fighter jets, which Ukrainian pilots are trained on, to the U.S. who would decide on how to dispose of them. The jets would fly out of a U.S. air force base in Ramstein, Germany.
"The prospect of fighter jets 'at the disposal of the Government of the United States of America' departing from a U.S./NATO base in Germany to fly into airspace that is contested with Russia over Ukraine raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance," Kirby said in the statement. "It is simply not clear to us that there is a substantive rationale for it."
The State Department's third highest-ranking diplomat, Ambassador Victoria Nuland told Congress earlier Tuesday that to her knowledge, the U.S. was not consulted prior to the Poles' announcement.
Kirby in his statement said that the U.S. "is now in contact" with the Poles about their statement today and will continue consulting with allies and partners about the ongoing security assistance to Ukraine.