Zelensky and his deputies have begged for a NFZ, as would we all if we were in their position. The Russian air force will eventually establish air superiority and Putin won’t distinguish between military and civilian targets on the ground once it does.
Ukraine also has a credible argument that we owe them. In 1994, in order to secure loose nukes following the USSR’s collapse, we made security guarantees to them in exchange for Ukraine agreeing to return the Soviet weapons on their soil to Moscow. Those guarantees were conspicuously vague, though. The U.S. didn’t want to be clearly obligated in writing to ride to the rescue in case Russia ever made a move on Kiev.
So Ukraine gave up its nukes for nothing, essentially, leaving it defenseless against future Russian imperialism. Now they need help:
Took part in the extraordinary meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers. My message: act now before it’s too late. Don’t let Putin turn Ukraine into Syria. We are ready to fight. We will continue fighting. But we need partners to help us with concrete, resolute and swift actions, now. pic.twitter.com/s4FCaAOjNy
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 4, 2022
Morally, the case for a no-fly zone is unimpeachable. Strategically, it’s unthinkable. Putting NATO air assets in direct conflict with Russia likely means a wider war in eastern Europe — World War III, one might call it — and the highest risk of a nuclear exchange in 60 years. There’s a reason why Ukraine has never joined NATO while some other former Soviet states have: It’s always seemed like the likeliest target for Russian aggression and therefore its membership in the alliance would meaningfully boost the chances of a western war with Russia.
To go to war with Russia now by sending planes to their aid would make Ukraine a de facto NATO member at the very moment that the logic for excluding them from the organization is at its strongest.
No thanks, said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg this morning: “We are not part of this conflict… We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering.”
NATO has rejected a Ukraine no-fly zone: "We are not part of this."
The secretary general Jens Stoltenberg tells a news conference NATO will not impose a "no fly zone" over Ukraine to avoid a "full fledged war in Europe".#Ukraine #UkraineWar #NATO pic.twitter.com/vnFaR71bzM
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) March 4, 2022
That’s the right call. NATO countries are walking a line between calling for de-escalation on the one hand and bolstering Ukraine’s defenses with weapons while weakening Russia with brutal economic sanctions on the other. So far, Putin hasn’t retaliated. But sending military assets onto the battlefield would leave him no choice. “I believe that all encouragements for NATO to get involved into the military conflict now are irresponsible,” said the prime minister of Lithuania, one of those former Soviet republics I mentioned that now enjoys NATO membership. If NATO attacks Russia, Lithuania may well take the brunt of the tsar’s response. The Baltics are certainly on the menu if he’s serious about rebuilding Russia’s empire.
Watching NATO sit by and do nothing while Putin rains death on Ukraine will be hard even for those of us who believe intervening would escalate the situation recklessly. Remember, though, that we may not be dealing with a fully rational actor on the other side and therefore can’t predict how he’d react to a military provocation. The White House has begun to factor that possibility into its strategic considerations.
In Situation Room meetings in recent days, the issue has come up repeatedly, according to three officials. Mr. Putin’s tendency, American intelligence officials have told the White House and Congress, is to double down when he feels trapped by his own overreach. So they have described a series of possible reactions, ranging from indiscriminate shelling of Ukrainian cities to compensate for the early mistakes made by his invading force, to cyberattacks directed at the American financial system, to more nuclear threats and perhaps moves to take the war beyond Ukraine’s borders…
Mr. Putin’s reaction to the initial wave of sanctions has provoked a range of concerns that one senior official called the “Cornered Putin Problem.” Those concerns center on a series of recent announcements: the pullout of oil companies like Exxon and Shell from developing Russia’s oil fields, the moves against Russia’s central bank that sent the ruble plunging, and Germany’s surprise announcement that it would drop its ban on sending lethal weapons to the Ukrainian forces and ramp up its defense spending…
His strategy in coming weeks, some other American officials have warned in closed meetings since the crisis accelerated, could be to redirect the conflict toward Washington, hoping to distract from the Russian forces’ attacks on civilians in Ukraine and rouse a nationalistic response to the actions of a longtime adversary.
There’s another reason beyond simple ignorance or compassion for Ukrainians that some hawks have taken to calling for a no-fly zone this week. “A Lot of Russia Hawks Were So Right About Ukraine That It Has Driven Them Crazy,” wrote Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley yesterday about the plainly irresponsible proposals coming from certain longtime Putin antagonists in the U.S. lately. They’re flush with exuberance at seeing Putin commit a historic strategic blunder and thrilled by the unanimity of U.S. opinion in siding with Ukraine, and they’ve been seduced by the opportunities on social media to grandstand during a moment of collective passion for a righteous cause. That’s a recipe for some nuclear hot takes (no pun intended).
It’s also how we ended up with a United States senator publicly calling for Russia’s leader to be killed last night, a gift-wrapped propaganda opportunity for Putin that will let him claim that the Ukrainian resistance is being led by the evil American government. Even other Republicans couldn’t resist piling on him for such an obviously stupid move:
This is an exceptionally bad idea.
Use massive economic sanctions; BOYCOTT Russian oil & gas; and provide military aid so the Ukrainians can defend themselves.
But we should not be calling for the assassination of heads of state. https://t.co/crPGHw9xyJ
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 4, 2022
While we are all praying for peace & for the people of Ukraine, this is irresponsible, dangerous & unhinged.
We need leaders with calm minds & steady wisdom.
Not blood thirsty warmongering politicians trying to tweet tough by demanding assassinations.
Americans don’t want war. https://t.co/l2hqiUbZGv
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (@RepMTG) March 4, 2022
Ingraham: I don’t know why a sitting US Senator would be tweeting that out. It seems really dangerous and stupid and we like Lindsey Graham but that’s just a stupid comment pic.twitter.com/yp7ks3tYMC
— Acyn (@Acyn) March 4, 2022
I am begging the super-hawks in Congress to chill out just a little, not a lot, and try to focus on the fact that we’ve destroyed Russia’s economy without firing a shot. If you want to avenge Ukraine without causing a third world war, there are worse ways to go about it than this:
LONDON, March 3 (Reuters) – JPMorgan said on Thursday it expected Russia's economy to contract 35% in the second quarter and 7% in 2022 with the economy suffering an economic output decline comparable to the 1998 crisis.
— tom balmforth (@BalmforthTom) March 3, 2022
I’ll leave you with Graham, who took enough heat last night for his idiotic call for regime change that he’s now scaled back his death wish for Putin to wanting to arrest him.
Lindsey Graham has toned down his comments from calling for Putin to be taken out repeatedly last night to calling for his arrest this morning on Fox & Friends pic.twitter.com/OKJBJdsmmR
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 4, 2022