Biden defends decision not to send jets to Ukraine
President Biden on Friday defended his decision to veto the US-backed transfer of fighter jets to Ukraine to stave off the Russian invasion, saying, “It’s called World War III.”
Biden scrapped Poland’s plan to transfer 28 Soviet-designed MiG-29s this week after Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said on Sunday Poland had “the green light” to move forward.
“The idea that we’re going to send offensive equipment and we’re going to send in planes and tanks and trains with American pilots and American crews — just understand, don’t kid yourself, no matter what you say, that’s called World War III,” Biden told a gathering by House Democrats in Philadelphia.
The president added: “Let’s get it straight here guys — that old expression, ‘Don’t be kidding.’
Biden continued to defend his inflation record – blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin for annual inflation hitting a new 40-year high of 7.9 percent in February, up from 7.5 percent in January.
“A third of all inflation in America last year was due to car prices. People finally had the money to buy cars, but … the companies couldn’t get semiconductors,” Biden said.
“The second big reason for inflation is Vladimir Putin. From the moment he stationed his more than 150,000 troops at the Ukrainian border, the price of gas went up 75 cents in January.”
Biden insisted his $1.9 trillion American bailout and policies to curb oil pipeline projects and new fossil fuel development would have very little impact on inflation.
“Let’s get something straight here: the Keystone pipeline was two years away. It was 2 percent complete. Give me a break,” the president said 14 months after blocking the controversial project.
Biden blamed energy companies for not drilling for more oil, saying, “The oil companies and executives don’t want to pump more oil.”
“Don’t tell me gas prices went up because I slowed American energy production,” Biden said, before arguing that “Putin’s gas tax drove prices up.”
The White House has made a concerted effort to blame Putin for higher gas prices, particularly after the US banned Russian oil imports this week. Fuel costs can indirectly increase the cost of other goods and fuel inflation.
“The Democrats did not create this problem. Vladimir Putin did it,” Biden emphasized again on Friday.
However, the latest monthly inflation data released on Thursday only covered the first four days of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The median price for US gasoline on Friday was $4.34 a gallon, up sharply from about $3.60 on the last day of February. The national average started around $3.45 in February before moving higher after hovering around $3.30 in January.
Biden defended his decision to block new planes to Ukraine as he faces strong bipartisan pressure to reconsider his decision to scrap plane transfers.
Poland offered to fly the jets to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, where the US would facilitate the transfer. It was unclear whether US or Ukrainian pilots would fly the planes to Ukraine under Poland’s Spike plan.
Forty Republican senators wrote Biden a letter Thursday urging him to reconsider, and several Democrats slammed the decision.
“There is bipartisan support to provide these planes,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said Thursday. “It is disappointing to see the reluctance on the part of the administration. It comes across as indecisiveness and bickering among members of the administration, which doesn’t help the cause.”
“Time is of the essence,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I understand why NATO and the United States do not engage in a no-fly zone [in Ukraine]. That has potential [for] direct conflict with Russia, but I don’t understand why we are not working on allowing planes to Ukraine.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that US military officials assessed “the addition of aircraft to the inventory is unlikely to significantly change the effectiveness of Ukraine’s air force relative to Russia’s capabilities.”
Psaki added: “The Ukrainian Air Force has several squadrons of fully operational aircraft and while Russian air capabilities are significant, their effectiveness has been limited due to Ukrainian strategic, operational and tactical ground-based air defense systems – surface-to-air missiles and MANPADS. ”
Fox News reported Friday that Ukraine is believed to still have 56 fighter jets capable of flying around 5-10 missions per day within the country.
It’s unclear why Ukraine hasn’t used its air force to bomb a kilometer-long Russian convoy north of the capital Kyiv, although some experts speculate that Ukrainian leaders are reserving equipment for a possible counterattack if enemy forces close in on the capital.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged speedy delivery of the plane as Russian troops began encircling the country’s largest cities after two weeks of war.
“Solve it faster,” said Zelenskyj on Wednesday. “Don’t shift responsibility – send us planes.”