Washington — Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday continued to urge the United States and Western allies to give fighter jets to Ukraine to help bolster its defenses against Russia’s unabating attacks, calling the planes the “highest demand” and the “most pressing issue.”

“If we lose control over the sky, we cannot prevent two things from happening: We cannot stop Russian bombers destroy[ing] our cities and killing civilians. And we cannot destroy Russian columns heading towards our big cities on the roads,” Kuleba said in an interview with “Face the Nation,” when asked what types of military equipment Ukraine needs from allies and partners. “To achieve these two purposes, we need more planes. This is the most pressing issue.”

The U.S. has sent Ukraine more than $1.2 billion in security assistance since January 2021, and on Saturday, President Biden authorized an additional $200 million in small arms and equipment for Ukraine. In addition to the latest round of military assistance, Congress on Thursday sent to Mr. Biden for his signature a $1.5 trillion government spending package that includes $13.6 billion in assistance Ukraine.

But Kuleba said Ukraine needs planes “to save [the] lives of our people” and combat Russia’s air power. 

“Frankly speaking, we don’t understand all the explanations that we are given why we should not be given those planes, and we will continue putting pressure … from all corners and requesting this assistance from the United States and other partners,” he said. 

The U.S. had been working on a deal with Poland to send their Russian-made fighter planes to Ukraine, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken told “Face the Nation” one week ago that Poland “gets a green-light” for sending jets to Ukraine.

But on Tuesday, the Pentagon said a proposal from Poland to give the U.S. its warplanes to then be passed on to Ukraine is not a “tenable one” and “raises serious concerns for the entire NATO alliance.” 

Kuleba called the back-and-forth over plans to give Ukraine fighter jets a “diplomatic mystery.”

“On the one hand, everyone is ready to do it, but nothing is happening and we are not getting the planes,” he said. “It reminds me of other ping-pong game where every side throws the ball to the other side and gets it back. We have no time for this kind of ping-pong diplomacy.”

Ukraine’s foreign minister said the logic behind the argument from the U.S. that handing over jets would escalate the already-heightened tensions with Russia is “flawed.”

“The drones are not escalatory and planes are escalatory. What is the logic behind it? Anti-tank weapons are not escalatory and planes are escalatory,” Kuleba said. “First, what else [does] Russia have to do for everyone to understand that they already reached the peak of escalation? They used, as I mentioned in the beginning, weapons prohibited by the international conventions. Why are we so afraid of another escalation? We need to defend ourselves.”

He added: “I don’t understand what else has to happen, what kind of atrocity has to be committed for foreigners to put all this flawed arguments aside and finally provide us with what we need.”

Ukraine is not expecting the 30-member NATO alliance to defend his country, Kuleba said, including from a possible chemical weapons attack, but just needs the weapons and equipment to protect itself. 

“What we are asking is [a] very simple thing,” he said. “We say arm Ukraine and we will do the rest. Give us all the weapons necessary and we will fight for our own land and for our people.”