At Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Portman urges Biden administration witness on decision not to supply fighter jets to Ukraine

March 10, 2022

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WASHINGTON DC – During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) pressed a Biden administration witness on the need for the U.S. to provide immediate military assistance, in particular combat aircraft, to Ukraine. Earlier this week, Poland offered to transfer all of their MiG-29 fighter jets “immediately and free of charge” to Ramstein Air Base for the United States to deliver to Ukraine. The administration refused the offer. Senator Portman pushed back on that decision, questioning the administration’s logic that suggested Russia would view delivering these planes as an escalation, then offering to send what the administration sees as even more effective assistance, air defense weapons.

A transcript of Senator Portman’s interrogation can be found below and a video can be found here.

Senator Portman:Secretary Karlin, you said you can’t give them planes because they really need better air defense. We don’t particularly think they need airplanes. They think they need planes. So are you saying that the only reason the Ministry of Defense opposes supplying these MiG-29s to Ukraine is that you know better than them what they need to defend? Is this your only reason?

The Honorable Mara Elizabeth Karlin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities: “Thank you for raising this issue, Senator Portman. I would say that we try to give Ukraine everything they can use immediately, on the ground, today. This is the priority. »

Senator Portman: “So in your opinion, your judgment trumps their judgment as to what they need?” Because they say they need planes.

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “We have spoken closely with them, and to be frank, it is ultimately a sovereign decision for Poland. We are consulting –”

Senator Portman: “No, we also spoke closely with them, including the President of Ukraine. So are you saying that is the reason?”

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “Senator, I will let you know of all your concerns. ”

Senator Portman: “No, just answer my question. Are you saying that’s the reason? That your judgment prevails over that of the Ukrainian army? »

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “I’m not saying that.”

Senator Portman: “Is that the reason? »

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “I say they have several squadrons that are mission capable -“

Senator Portman: “So you say that – because the other reason I’ve heard is that somehow it would upset Vladimir Putin if we were to send these weapons. In fact, we are already sending Stingers and Javelins In fact you just said air defense weapons are more effective and that’s what we should send, so you’re saying what we’d like to send is more effective and therefore should offend Vladimir Putin more than planes, right?? And you can’t send planes. What is the logic behind that?

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “Thank you for raising this senator. We are indeed providing the assistance you have outlined, as have many of our allies.

Senator Portman: “Are you saying that you are afraid of provoking Valdimir Putin? Isn’t that one of your reasons?

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “I think escalation considerations need to be factored into a –”

Senator Portman: “So you’re escalating with a weapon that you think is less effective than the other weapons you’d like to send them. How does that make sense, logically?

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “Our Intelligence Community has looked into this matter. I am more than willing to discuss this further in a confidential session, but I believe there is –”

Senator Portman: “Well, we don’t need a confidential session here. Here we are. You say the two reasons we now learn are, one, that your judgment supersedes that of the Ukrainian military and two, you think it’s somehow more provocative, even though you say you should send them and that you want to send something that you think is more effective on the ground which, by definition, would be something that the Russians would be more concerned about, right? »

Assistant Secretary Karlin: “We give them abilities that they use immediately. We take a very close look at escalation throughout this –”

Senator Portman: “They would use this equipment immediately. Their pilots are ready to go. They repair airfields so they can use it. They are ready to take off from the highways. I mean, they want it right away. And again, I go back to what the president and the ranking member said about the situation, it’s just dire. We don’t have time here. The maternity ward you cited as an example is a deliberate bombing of a maternity ward. We know this because Lavrov responded by saying, “Yeah, sometimes they have militias there. And the larger context here is one of our allies. It is a sovereign country. So we can accept Russia stepping in and bombing people and taking away all kinds of weapons, but it’s somehow not appropriate for us to help facilitate what Poland wants to do and hopefully other countries as well.

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