What Is A No-Fly Zone And Why Won't The West Enforce One In Ukraine?
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With the UK and US choosing not to adhere to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's appeals to restrict aircraft over Ukraine, here's everything you need to know about no-fly zones.
Zelenskyy encouraged Western nations this week to enforce a no-fly zone following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, claiming Russia had launched 56 rocket strikes and fired 113 cruise missiles since the start of the operation.
The move would impact Russian missiles, planes and helicopters, with Zelenskyy expressing belief 'that Russia is trying to apply pressure in this unsubtle way.'
He commented: 'Do not waste time. We do not accept such tactics. Fair negotiations can occur when one side does not hit the other side with rocket artillery at the very moment of negotiations.'
What is a no-fly zone?
A no-fly-zone, or NFZ, refers to an area in which passenger, carrier or military aircraft are banned or restricted from flying. They are usually imposed for security reasons and can be implemented in relation to major events, such as the Olympics, or over certain buildings.
As well as being used in these civilian contexts, NFZs can also be used in war zones to prevent enemy aircraft from carrying out attacks, or flying over the country to perform surveillance. This is what Zelenskyy wants to happen in Ukraine.
How are no-fly zones enforced in military settings?
In order to ensure no aircraft fly in the restricted areas, opposing fighter jets patrol the area in search of any unwelcome aircraft found to be breaking the rules. Any such craft could be forced to land, escorted away from the area, or even shot down.
Where have no-fly zones been used previously?
No-fly zones were first implemented by the US and NATO in Iraq in 1991, USA Today reports, in an attempt to prevent attacks by Saddam Hussein on the Kurdish and Shia Muslim populations. These were enforced by the UK, US and France.
The United Nations is also known to have imposed no-fly zones in the past; once over Bosnia in 1992, and once in Libya in 2011, when British RAF jets were among those involved in enforcing the rule.
Why have the UK and US turned down Zelenskyy's calls for a no-fly zone?
In short, the answer to this question is because it would put Western forces enforcing the zone at risk of being shot down by Russian planes. In turn, this could start a direct war between NATO countries and Russia.
While discussing the decision to deny Zelenskyy's request, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that 'putting UK forces in a position where they will be directly required to shoot down Russian planes' would 'feed Putin’s narrative.'
As cited by Politics Home, he continued: 'From the point of view of the distinction between what we would do for a NATO ally and Ukraine, which is a close partner who we want to support, we will not get involved directly in military operations against Russia. We have considered the no-fly zone but for the reasons I've given… the international committee as a whole has decided against it.'
Defence secretary Ben Wallace has also said that in enforcing a no-fly zone, 'NATO will have to effectively declare war on Russia, because that’s what you would do.'
Similarly, the US has refused calls to enforce a no-fly zone as it could cause direct conflict between the United States and Russia, with White House spokesperson Jen Psaki saying President Joe Biden has 'been very clear that he is not intending to send US troops to fight a war with Russia.'
Psaki continued: 'And I think what’s important to note here is that is essentially what this would be a step toward, because a no-fly zone would require implementation. It would require deploying US military to enforce which would be a direct conflict, a potentially direct conflict, and potentially war with Russia, which is something we are not planning to be a part of.'
Zelenskyy, however, expressed belief in a statement to Axios that a no-fly zone would help Ukraine 'defeat the aggressor with much less blood.'
Though the US and the UK are against sending their own fighter jets into the fold, Ukraine's air forces are still operational and continue to carry out defensive missions.
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