UPDATED: US considers sending planes to Poland if Warsaw sends fighter jets to Ukraine: Blinken

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CHISINAU, March 6 (Reuters) – The United States is considering sending planes to Poland if Warsaw decided to send fighter jets to Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on a visit to Moldova on Sunday.

“We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland decide to supply those planes,” Blinken said. “I can’t speak to a timeline but I can just say we’re looking at it very, very actively.”

The visit came after Blinken visited NATO-member Poland on Saturday as the alliance bolsters its eastern flank in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Washington’s top diplomat Antony Blinken on Sunday praised Moldova’s leaders for taking in refugees from Ukraine as he visited the country on a tour through eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

More than 230,000 people had crossed into Moldova from Ukraine since the war began on Feb. 24, and 120,000 of them had stayed in the country, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita said in a meeting with Blinken in the capital Chisinau.

“For a small country like Moldova, this is a very large number” and Moldova will need assistance to deal with the influx, she said.

Blinken, the Biden’s administration’s secretary of state, said he admired Moldova’s generosity and hospitality in taking in those fleeing the conflict, which the U.N. refugee agency said could have caused 1.5 million people to flee Ukraine by Sunday.

The visit came after Blinken visited NATO-member Poland on Saturday as the alliance bolsters its eastern flank in response to Russia’s assault. He will go on to visit the Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Moldova, a former Soviet Republic like its neighbor Ukraine, is not a member of NATO but on Thursday formally applied to join the European Union. The move was likely to rile Moscow, which has an estimated 1,500 troops based in the breakaway region of Transnistria in Moldova’s east.

Blinken said Moldova provided a “powerful and positive story” of an emerging democracy “at a moment when over some years democracies have been moving backward not forward.

Blinken was also meeting Moldovan President Maia Sandu, a former World Bank economist who came to power in 2019 and won a larger mandate in elections in July promising closer ties with the West.

Photo – A photo issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows the US secretary of state Antony Blinken briefly crossed into Ukraine after meeting with the country’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba. The pair met at the border with Poland to discuss western efforts to support Ukraine after Russia invaded 10 days ago.

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