As Ukrainian leaders plead with the West for help against Russia’s attacks on their country, they’re meeting staunch resistance on one key request: a no-fly zone.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine has pleaded with Western powers for protection of the country’s airspace, but there is a strong bipartisan consensus in the U.S. and among its European allies that implementing a no-fly zone could be disastrous. On Sunday, American leaders on the right and left argued that taking this action would unleash a wider war, with multiple lawmakers invoking fears that it could lead to World War III.
Though U.S. lawmakers were largely unwavering in their warnings against the no-fly zone, they’ve warmed to many of Ukraine’s requests. There is growing support on both sides of the aisle for a ban on oil imports from Moscow, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday indicated that the U.S. was working on the prospect with European allies. Aid to Ukraine, too, is swelling, after the Biden administration revamped its emergency funding request last week to ask for more assistance for the country. But even as military aid and harsh sanctions enjoy broad bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers, the establishment of a no-fly zone has not gained traction in Congress.
Leaders in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, have been insistent that this measure is necessary to protect the country from the aggression unleashed by President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. continued her country’s calls for the implementation of a no-fly zone on Sunday, saying of the Kremlin, “This is a terrorist state and we should treat it as a terrorist state.”
The ambassador, Oksana Markarova, appeared on “Fox News Sunday” as the humanitarian situation worsened in her country. The same morning, Zelenskyy took to social media to call on Western leaders to do more.
“If you do not do that, if you do not at least give us aircraft to protect ourselves, there can only be one conclusion: You also want us to be slowly killed,” he said in a video message shared on Twitter.
The Ukrainian leader has regularly used social media since the attack began in full force, communicating with his nation and the international community as Russia wages not just a physical war, but also a messaging war of disinformation, on the country. Zelenskyy hasn’t held back in asking Western nations for more help as Ukrainians fight back. Before the invasion, he accused them of “appeasement” of Putin, and he met with members of Congress on Saturday to appeal for more weapons and measures against the Kremlin, including a no-fly zone.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said his nation’s greatest weakness militarily was in the air. Stressing the urgency of the situation on “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN, he said: “As we speak, Russian planes continue to bomb Ukrainian cities, kill Ukrainian civilians, including women and children. It’s a disaster here. And we need to protect the skies.”
Asked about no-fly-zones, Blinken said on Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that President Joe Biden had been clear that he would not put the U.S. in a direct armed conflict with Russia.
“Because for everything we’re doing for Ukraine, the president also has a responsibility to not get us into a direct conflict, a direct war with Russia, a nuclear power, and risk a war that expands even beyond Ukraine to Europe,” Blinken said. “That’s clearly not our interest. What we’re trying to do is end this war in Ukraine, not start a larger one.”
A no-fly zone would not only create the possibility that Russian planes would be shot down, but could also lead to Western planes firing on anti-aircraft sites within Russia itself.
“I think we need to be clear that we are not going to go to war with Russia,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Murphy later reinforced his message, making clear on Twitter that World War III was not an option: “One thing is certainly true: shooting down Russian planes would require a declaration of war from Congress — which isn’t happening.”
Murphy’s comments were echoed on the right, with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) saying, “It would be World War III,” on “Fox News Sunday.” Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a vocal Republican critic of the Biden administration, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she, too, opposed the no-fly zone — instead calling on the White House to take actions such as sanctioning Russian energy companies and coordinating intelligence with Ukraine.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a centrist Democrat, struck a different tone than many of his fellow senators. Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd whether he’d support a no-fly zone, Manchin said, “ I would take nothing off the table, but I would let — be very clear that we’re going to support the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian president and his government in every way humanly possible.”
As they have called for aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russian oil, lawmakers have been effusive in their praise of Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders who are defending their country. They also noted that Ukraine had put up a strong defense against Kremlin forces so far, with multiple reports that Russia is frustrated by the resistance it has met already. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Putin has found himself in a conflict he “can’t win,” and Blinken said the Russian leader was “destined to lose,” though he added that “we have to be prepared for this to last for some time.”
Now, as U.S. and European leaders consider their next steps in helping Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador, emphasized that this was a “full-fledged war” with implications beyond Ukraine.
Markarova said the attacks of the last 11 days showed that “all of us must step up” against the Kremlin.
“Let’s all remember that Ukraine did nothing to provoke this attack,” she said, adding: “We’re not a threat to Russia unless being a democracy and living peacefully in your own country is a threat.”
“If this situation happened to Ukraine, who is safe?” the ambassador said. “What democracy can feel safe now?”
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