US says no to Ukraine no-fly zone

American policymakers have rallied behind Ukraine as it faces an onslaught from Russia, but there is one proposal to harden Ukraine that faces bipartisan opposition: a no-fly zone.

Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have called on the United States and its allies to impose a no-fly zone to deprive Russia of one of its key advantages over Ukraine in its larger air force. bigger and more powerful.

But Democratic and Republican lawmakers, as well as Biden administration officials, say imposing a no-fly zone with the US military would risk a direct confrontation between the US and Russia, which at its turn could lead to an all-out war between the countries of the world. two major nuclear powers.

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“In order to enforce this no-fly zone, you have to enforce it,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, DN.H. “And I think that puts American pilots in a difficult position that could start a war with Russia. And I don’t think that’s in the interests of the United States.”

A week into the Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces fared better than expected, clinging to Kiev and frustrating Moscow, which was also stymied by its own planning failures.

Russia has also yet to deploy the full might of its air force on Ukraine, with a senior US defense official telling reporters on Tuesday that the Russians are not “necessarily willing to take risks raised with their own planes and their own pilots”.

But US defense officials warn that Russia still has significant capabilities it has yet to use and that Russian leaders will learn from early setbacks to adjust their tactics, including turning to siege warfare. who could level Kiev.

Ukraine’s leaders say they can build on their early successes and defeat Russia if the West establishes a no-fly zone.

“We need the West to impose a no-fly zone over significant parts of Ukraine,” Zelensky said in a statement to Axios on Monday. “Ukraine can beat the aggressor. We prove it to the world. But our allies must also do their part.”

Zelensky also tweeted on Tuesday that he “stressed the need to close the skies” of Ukraine during a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The United States has deployed thousands of troops to bolster NATO’s eastern flank and support allies who fear the Ukrainian conflict will spill over their borders.

But President Joe Biden has insisted that no American troops will enter Ukraine. And administration officials this week clarify that the wish also extends to enforcing a no-fly zone, which could involve US military planes shooting down Russian planes if they ignore the protected zone. .

“A no-fly zone would need to be put in place,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “It would require the deployment of the US military to enforce it, which would potentially be a direct conflict and potentially a war with Russia, which we don’t plan to be a part of.”

Debates over a US military-enforced no-fly zone have erupted in other recent conflicts, particularly during the height of the Syrian civil war, as advocates and policymakers sought ways to protect civilians. The Obama administration has rejected proposals for a no-fly zone in Syria, fearing it will take tens of thousands of troops to enforce it and risk a confrontation with Russia, which has forces in Syria supporting the regime. .

The United States and its allies helped establish and maintain no-fly zones in Bosnia in the 1990s, in Iraq after the Gulf War, and in Libya in 2011. A report by the Congressional Research Service of 2013 on no-fly zones noted “many assess” the strategic planning for these operations “was incomplete at best”.

Now, with the conflict raging in Ukraine, even those who generally disagree with the Biden administration are warning that a potential no-fly zone could lead to a US-Russian war.

“If it were possible, I would be for it, but it’s impossible without provoking a confrontation between U.S. forces and Russian forces, which must be avoided for obvious reasons,” said Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho , the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Still, the idea found support from a limited number of defense hawks. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who is on course to be the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee when Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., retires at the end of the year, said a no-fly zone is “something I wouldn’t take off the table”.

“I think like-minded nations should explore this based on humanitarian concerns,” Wicker said.

As lawmakers largely reject the idea of ​​a no-fly zone, they are lining up to provide more funds to deal with the crisis.

The Biden administration last week asked Congress for $6.4 billion to respond to the invasion, including $3.5 billion from the Pentagon to cover the cost of troop deployments and to restock US weapons being shipped to Ukraine. .

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed support for more funding, but are debating specifics, such as whether to include it in a broader government spending bill or move funding to Ukraine separately. Some lawmakers also suggested going further than the administration requested, up to $10 billion.

“We will be working on a strong bipartisan aid package with both military and security needs, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, DN.Y, told reporters on Tuesday. “There are some really good discussions going on about it right now.”

— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: US-imposed no-fly zone over Syria risks sparking conflict with Russia: Selva

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