Patriot missiles are being sent by the United States to Poland to ramp up their protection against possible attack, it was confirmed on Tuesday, as Vice President Kamala Harris was en route to the NATO member country for talks about how best to shore up Ukraine’s efforts to stop the Russian invasion.
Harris will land in Warsaw on Wednesday at the start of a three-day trip that will also see her visit Romania.
Her visit has been complicated by the Pentagon hours before her arrival pouring cold water on Poland’s offer to hand all its MiG-29 fighter jets to the U.S., apparently as part of an arrangement to deliver the warplanes to Ukraine‘s armed forces where they are desperately needed to fight off invading Russian forces.
The idea has been floating around for more than a week after Ukraine pleaded for more aircraft, but the plan has been dogged by questions about how to deliver the planes to Ukrainian territory without dragging NATO into the conflict.
But Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said on Tuesday night the deal was unworkable and would cause serious concerns for the ‘entire NATO alliance.’
The U.S. is now sending two Patriot missile batteries to Poland as a ‘defensive deployment,’ a spokesman for U.S. European Command (EUCOM) said on Tuesday night.
Patriots are air defense missile systems designed to counter and destroy incoming short-range ballistic missiles, advanced aircraft and cruise missiles.
Capt. Adam Miller, spokesman for EUCOM said in a statement: ‘At the direction of the Secretary of Defense and at the invitation of our Polish allies, General Wolters, Commander, of US European Command has directed US Army Europe and Africa to reposition two Patriot Batteries to Poland.
‘This is a prudent force protection measure that underpins our commitment to Article Five and will in no way support any offensive operations.
‘Every step we take is intended to deter aggression and reassure our allies.’
Article Five is the section of the NATO agreement which states that if one NATO member is attacked, all must come to their aid.
The situation around Kyiv, meanwhile, was deteriorating, with reports of hand-to-hand combat in Irpin, 20 miles northwest of the capital.
‘There is real street fighting now,’ said Stas, a Ukrainian paratrooper lieutenant.
‘In some places, there is hand-to-hand combat,’ he told AFP.
‘There is a huge column – 200 men, 50 light armored vehicles, several tanks,’ he said of the Russian threat.
‘We are trying to push them out, but I don’t know if we’ll be fully able to do it. The situation is very unstable.’