Feb 28, 2022 - World

Scoop: Zelensky pushes Biden on no-fly zone

Zelensky and Biden
Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky is urging President Biden and NATO to impose a "no-fly zone" over "significant parts" of the country, telling Axios in a statement that Ukraine "can beat the aggressor" if the Western allies "do their part."

Why it matters: President Biden has ruled out sending U.S. troops to fight Russia in Ukraine. That pledge extends to a no-fly zone, which would require the U.S. military to potentially directly engage Russian air forces, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed on Monday.

Driving the news: Zelensky, who remains in Ukraine under siege from Vladimir Putin, said in a statement to Axios provided through an adviser: "If the West does this, Ukraine will defeat the aggressor with much less blood."

  • "The sanctions are heading in the right direction. In addition to disconnecting the Russian Central Bank from SWIFT and providing more Stingers and anti-tank weapons, we need the West to impose a no-fly zone over significant parts of Ukraine," Zelensky said.
  • "Ukraine can beat the aggressor. We are proving this to the world. But our allies must also do their part."

But, but, but: "Here's what's important for everybody to know about a no-fly zone: What that would require is implementation by the U.S. military. It would essentially mean the U.S. military would be shooting down Russian planes," Psaki told MSNBC.

  • "That is definitely escalatory, that would potentially put us into a place where we're in a military conflict with Russia. That is not something the president wants to do."

The big picture: Zelensky's passionate appeals to the West have yielded major steps on sanctions and military aid that would have been unthinkable two weeks ago. But direct military engagement with Russia via a no-fly zone has so far been a red line.

  • "We have no intentions of moving into Ukraine neither on the ground or in the airspace," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told MSNBC on Monday. "We have a responsibility to make sure that this doesn't spiral out of control that escalates even further into concern for full-fledged war in Europe involving NATO allies."
  • U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has also ruled out the idea, saying that "NATO would have to effectively declare war on Russia."

Between the lines: In Washington, only a very hawkish minority is publicly advocating a no-fly zone.

  • On Capitol Hill, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted Friday that the U.S. should "declare a #NoFlyZone over Ukraine" to disrupt Russia's air operations and "give the heroic Ukrainians a fair fight."

Kinzinger's call was met with prompt criticism from members of both parties. 

  • Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) in a statement Saturday rejected calls for the U.S. and NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it could pull America into war with Russia.
  • "A no-fly zone is enforced, not declared. It requires our fighter jets to go directly against Russian fighter jets, to get them to stay out of a certain airspace. If the United States were to do this, our fighter jets would potentially have to shoot down Russian jets. This would mean the United States declaring war on Russia."
  • "No. This is insane," Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) also tweeted in response to Kinzinger's tweet."

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