UK’s Ben Wallace: no-fly zone would strip Ukraine of ability to hit Russians from air

Britain said closing the skies in Ukraine would lead to Nato shooting down Russian jets

An armed man stands by the remains of a Russian military vehicle in Bucha, close to the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022.  Russia on Tuesday stepped up shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, pounding civilian targets there.  Casualties mounted and reports emerged that more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed after Russian artillery recently hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, the capital.  (AP Photo / Serhii Nuzhnenko)
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Britain’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has restated the UK government’s opposition to enforcing a no-fly zone in Ukraine, arguing it would strip Ukrainian army of its ability to strike Russians from the air.

As President Vladimir Putin’s invasion enters its seventh day, and the civilian death toll mounts, there remains little appetite in the West to close the skies over Eastern Europe.

A day after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed calls for a no-fly zone, Mr Wallace rejected the idea and said this would lead to a larger war.

“If you have a no-fly zone you have to enforce a no-fly zone,” Mr Wallace told Sky News.

“That would involve British fighter jets shooting down Russian fighter jets, probably over Ukraine; that would lead to Article Five triggering of Nato, and Nato is a self-defence pact; all 30 countries will come to each other’s aid. The triggering of that Article Five would lead to a war against Russia across the whole of Europe.”

He said a restriction on aircraft would also have to apply to Ukrainian jets, which would prevent them from bombing Russian targets.

“If you had a no-fly zone in Ukraine, the overwhelming scale of the Russian army would be able to drive around with impunity, which it can’t at the moment.”

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson said no Nato member was considering introducing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to prevent Russian forces from dropping bombs.

“I think for any Nato member to get involved actively in conflict with Russia is a huge step which is not being contemplated by any member,” Mr Johnson said during a visit to Tapa military base in Estonia.

The prime minister, accompanied by Estonia’s Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, was greeted by Nato troops at the site.

A no-fly zone would open the possibility of Nato troops shooting down Russian planes, Mr Johnson said. This is “not on the agenda of any Nato country”, he said.

“We will not fight Russian forces in Ukraine,” he said. “Our reinforcements, like these reinforcements here in Tapa, are firmly within the borders of Nato members.”

After the Russian leader ordered troops into the former Soviet nation last Thursday, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, immediately called on Nato to impose a no-fly zone.

Such a measure would have to be enforced by military means, including surveillance, pre-emptive strikes against defensive systems and the downing of aircraft that enter a restricted area.

Gen Sir Adrian Bradshaw, former deputy supreme allied commander of Nato, backed Britain’s opposition to a no-fly zone.

He argued the conflict in Ukraine was not like the war in Iraq, and said: “We’re up against a sophisticated enemy with very capable air defence assets.”

He said that if a no-fly zone were imposed, British troops would have to shoot down Russian planes, carry out attacks on ground elements of Russia’s air defences and possibly conduct special forces raids.

He said such a scenario would pave the way for a multipronged war between Nato and Russia that would span space, the ground, sea, air, internet and media.

“This is war. It amounts to 30 countries against Russia,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “This is the Third World War in anybody’s language. We cannot afford to let that happen.”

Mr Wallace told the BBC that President Putin knows “no limit” and would use indiscriminate carpet bombing against Ukrainian cities as his forces close in on Kyiv. He said the leadership of the Russian military was “ruthless” and was prepared to lay siege to Ukraine’s population centres.

After days of intense battles, Russian paratroopers landed on a military hospital in Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, overnight. But Mr Wallace said Mr Putin’s forces did not yet have control of the eastern city.

The Ministry of Defence said the latest intelligence suggested Russian forces had moved into the centre of Kherson, in south Ukraine.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed since Russia launched its invasion, the Ukrainian emergency service said on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday morning to voice his “disgust” at the “abhorrent attacks” carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine in recent hours and days, a UK government representative said.

“The Prime Minister told President Zelenskyy that the UK was rallying UN General Assembly members today, to ensure the strongest possible condemnation of Russia at this afternoon’s UN meeting in New York,” the representative said.

“Sharing his disgust at the attacks on Ukraine, the prime minister said the UK was doing everything possible to support the Ukrainian people and their resistance.

“President Zelenskyy thanked the Prime Minister for the UK’s support and leadership in ensuring defensive aid reached Ukraine and said it had been vital in holding back Russian forces.

“Both leaders agreed on the need for sanctions to go further to exert maximum pressure on President Putin in the coming days.

“The prime minister said his thoughts and prayers, and those of the UK, were with the Ukrainian people.”

Updated: March 02, 2022, 3:08 PM