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A no-fly zone in Ukraine will backfire Hot-headed politicians risk sacrificing the innocent

(DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)


June 3, 2022   5 mins

In their desire to show solidarity with the embattled Ukrainians, the war in Ukraine has led some British commentators to slip the bounds of rationality — and none more so than the Chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee, Tobias Ellwood.

In a 2am tweet yesterday, Ellwood claimed: “Pleased to see powerful voices joining my call for a humanitarian partial or total NO FLY ZONE. What scale of war crimes, what numbers of civilian deaths must we witness — before Nato, the most powerful military alliance in the world, is tasked to intervene?”

While wars are not won by manic late-night tweets, they can nevertheless create much damage, in this case the risk of significantly escalating the conflict through creating unrealistic expectations among the British media class about what should be done, and among the Ukrainians about what will be done.

As the Biden administration’s spokeperson Jen Psaki very sensibly observed last night in her attempt to persuade journalists to tone down their rhetoric, a No-Fly Zone “would essentially mean the US military would be shooting down planes, Russian planes. That is definitely escalatory. That would potentially put us in a place where we’re in a military conflict with Russia. That is not something the President wants to do.”

As Psaki continued: “We are not going to have a military war with Russia with US troops. And [Biden] thinks it’s vitally important
 to be direct with the public about that.”

Aside from dramatically increasing the risk of a nuclear exchange with Russia, the idea of a No-Fly Zone is a non-starter for many reasons. Even if it did not cause Russia to heighten its preparedness for a nuclear strike against us — which is surely reason enough — shooting down Russian jets would make Nato a military party to the conflict in a way that could soon spiral out of control. This ought to go without saying, but apparently it is now necessary to explain to Britain’s political class in very simple terms.

If Nato jets are flying from airbases in Central and Southeastern Europe to shoot down Russian aircraft, not only would the jets become military targets for Russia’s air defences, but those bases would themselves then become likely targets for Russian military retaliation, along with the basing locations of Nato air defence systems covering Western Ukraine. For all their diplomatic support of Ukraine and their supply of vital munitions to Ukrainian forces, countries such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria will naturally shy away from a course of action likely to lead to Russian air and missile strikes on their own territory.

When advocates of a No-Fly Zone in Syria demanded such a course of action, it was before Russia entered the Syrian war, when Syrian airbases could reasonably be put out-of-action by long-range missile strikes without any serious risk of retaliation. This is not the case with the Ukraine war: is Ellwood seriously advocating that we strike the airbases in Russia and Belarus from which Russian aircraft are deployed? If so, then he should be explicit about what he is calling for, and the consequences that will ensue.

In any case, Russia has so far refrained from utilising its vast air superiority against Ukraine, for the possible reasons outlined in this excellent RUSI essay; namely, the lack of guided munitions to strike targets without causing widespread civilian deaths, the poor coordination of Russian air defence systems deployed in Ukraine which may cause jets to be downed by friendly fire, and the relative inexperience of Russian pilots when faced with competent opponents.

Monday was the first day in which Russian jets were visible in the conflict, flying close air support missions over the Kharkiv front. The only meaningful Russian air activity so far has been the use of helicopters to land airborne forces at the Hostomel airbase outside Kyiv in the war’s opening phase, to create a staging ground or potential bridgehead for the coming assault on the capital, and the limited use of attack helicopters to destroy Ukrainian ground positions and vehicles moving along the roads in convoy.

Instead, the most dreadful Russian bombardments of the war so far have been by ground-based artillery and long-range missile systems against the besieged city of Kharkiv on Monday and yesterday, causing great destruction and terrible civilian casualties among the city’s mostly Russian-speaking population, as well as on Ukrainian military installations elsewhere in the country.

The Russian way of war is based on heavy artillery barrages to soften up defences for a ground assault, unlike the Western approach in which aerial bombardment has become the dominant tool. A No-Fly Zone would do nothing to prevent this outcome, though rhetoric demanding one may well play a role in encouraging Russian decision-makers to intensify their artillery bombardment in search of a swift and overwhelming victory — one which would cause vast numbers of civilian casualties.

Our aim at this point should be to dissuade Putin as far as we can from deploying the artillery assets he has so far barely used, not in encouraging him to go all out before a Western response can realistically be organised. We do not want Putin to turn Kyiv into Nineties Grozny or Aleppo, and over-promising and under-delivering military support is an almost guaranteed way to speed up this outcome.

Perhaps Ellwood and others have had their expectations of what is possible or desirable raised by the NATO No-Fly Zone against Libya in 2011. Cautiously agreed to by Russia at the UN Security Council, it swiftly evolved into a close air support campaign against Libyan ground forces which allowed the rebels to defeat Gaddafi  — an outcome which enraged Putin, and shaped his attitude to the following Syrian conflict.

But Gaddafi’s decrepit Libya is not Putin’s Russia and such a campaign is simply not achievable. Does Ellwood want us to strike Russian tanks and artillery in Ukraine? Again, he should be honest about what he is calling for and about what the Russian response would look like.

We should sigh with relief that Johnson yesterday uled out the No-Fly Zone idea that America has already dismissed, telling a Ukrainian journalist, with painful but realistic frankness, that “Unfortunately the implication of a [No-Fly Zone] is that the UK would be engaged in shooting down Russian planes … and be in direct combat” with Russia, and with consequences “truly difficult to control.”

Britain, and other Nato countries are already doing about as much as we can, by supplying Ukraine with the munitions making the Russian advance so costly, and by imposing great financial and diplomatic costs on Russia for Putin’s invasion. Beyond this, there is little more we can do other than encourage Russia towards meaningful negotiations before Kyiv is encircled and Ukraine’s bargaining hand is dramatically weakened.

Unless he has genuinely taken leave of his senses, Ellwood’s “hold me back!” posturing is possible purely because he knows the course of action he is calling for is already out of the question. He can raise the stakes in this dangerous and irresponsible manner because it wins him attention for the forthcoming Tory leadership contest, and because there are no negative consequences for him doing so.

That must change: the risk of escalation is too great for this rhetoric to be permitted at so dangerous a moment for Britain and Europe. The Conservative party must get a grip on Ellwood and others’ irresponsible late-night interventions in an already fevered online discourse: the whip has been withdrawn for far less.

Nothing good will come of such insane talk, for Britain, or most acutely, for the Ukrainians seemingly about to suffer a devastating campaign of artillery bombardment. Raising their expectations with false hopes at this stage of the war will not help them. But raising Russia’s threat calculus may harm them a great deal, at a time when Putin seems already poised to take his gloves off after a so-far half-hearted campaign. That is too great a price to pay for Ellwood’s desire to raise his profile — and the party needs to step in soon.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago

“We should sigh with relief that Johnson has today ruled out the No-Fly Zone idea that America has already dismissed, telling a Ukrainian journalist, with painful but realistic frankness, that “Unfortunately the implication of a [No-Fly Zone] is that the UK would be engaged in shooting down Russian planes 
 and be in direct combat” with Russia, and with consequences “truly difficult to control.””
This was definitely one of Johnson’s better moments. I find myself wondering ever more often whether the capability of thinking through the consequences of one’s own actions/words is a dying art.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The emoting from the young lady journalist, upset as she may be, was not appropriate in my opinion. We have become quite emotionally incontinent as a culture, and don’t do nearly enough thinking before speaking.
It’s frustrating that the journalist class, who we rely on to find and present information to us, have become some of the most shallow and emotion driven of all.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

I have much sympathy with the lady and would be similarly stirred up if bombs were dropping on my home city and my friends and family. But it is certainly telling that the emotional outburst gained far greater media coverage than the rational reply that came afterwards.

Peter MacDonagh
Peter MacDonagh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

We have become emotionally incontinent as a culture. A perfect description as we leap from one panicked hysteria to the next.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Yes she got pretty wild (I would say hysterical but I learned in diversity classes that you’re not allowed to say that about women) and undermined her argument by doing so – helping anyone seeing her performance realise that following emotions in this situation is not the best option.
I was amazed at Elwood’s pronouncements. As the writer says, he’s like the kid at the back of the crowd shouting “fight, fight, fight”.
This behaviour should disqualify him from high office, let alone leadership – and removal as Chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee.

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

Right on the money Jem !!
Journos are prepared to do and say anything to sell their rags. Politicians are prepared to any nonsense to get the top dog job.
Boris is far from being my favourite but he mastered this pouring of emotions brilliantly.

Brian Hunt
Brian Hunt
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

She was an activist for the world economic forum according to some reports

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

On this occasion then , good for Johnson, we’ll see if he can hold the line in the face of what we have yet to receive over the next few weeks.
One of the less remarked upon events in the 2016 US GE was Clinton’s promise of no-fly zones over Syria, and how badly that went down with the voters. Almost certainly cost her a lot of votes from a public sick to death of a succession of Middle East failures.
When I saw it being floated recently by various media neo-libs in the US for Ukraine, I became genuinely concerned that this was a case of the elites believing it was more fitting to change the voters, than change their minds.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It might even be regarded as Johnson’s ‘finest hour’, not that there’s a lot of competition for that position.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Spot on.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

Excellent and well-balanced article, more like this please.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

An aside, tangential to this sane and sober piece: just why is the political class of such poor quality across much of west right now? Both on the Right and the Left, pigmies the lot of them. Is it a consequence of decades long complacency?

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Have you read ‘Why we get the wrong politicians’ by Isabel Hardman? I recommend it.
It really is a poor career choice, which is why the best and brightest don’t so it.
Hence the low quality, which is where I agree with you.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

I had never heard of that book. Thank you.

kblowrey
kblowrey
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

Here in Canada, a new and in many ways promising political party got started a few years ago: the PPC. the leader, Maxime Bernier, is clever, charismatic, and honest. the PPC candidates in Canadian ridings have, by and large, been alarming weirdos.

Watching this got me thinking about what it takes to decide to run for office at the entry level. Mostly, having no life? Combining campaigning with gainful employment would be very difficult. In the best case scenario, if you win, you have to give up your job and disrupt your family life: for a post that has a guaranteed term of 4-6 year, after which, if you lose the next election, you cannnot go back to your old job (too much time will have gone by).

If you are a well-adjusted adult who has built a successful career and family life, there is simply no way you would take on any of these risks. I am sure there are exceptions, I”m not trying to insult all politicians. But if you think it through, it explains a lot about how we’ve got who we’ve got and how hard it is to get a new party off the ground.

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago
Reply to  kblowrey

And when you lose your job at the next election it usually won’t be your fault. Your party leader lost it by falling out of fashion, or going to a party in bl*ckf*ce, or eating cake at his birthday party, or something.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  kblowrey

“ If you are a well-adjusted adult who has built a successful career and family life, there is simply no way you would take on any of these risks”

Precisely why we don’t have any. The “founding fathers” of the U.S. were primarily just these sort of men and they risked everything to create what we have. If no one wishes to risk their cozy lifestyle we will get what we deserve.
Thomas Jefferson once said that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

chuckpezeshki
chuckpezeshki
2 years ago
Reply to  kblowrey

Nailed it. And the starting salaries, which feed the pipeline, are part-time jobs.
So we end up in crisis with not the best minds in charge.

chuckpezeshki
chuckpezeshki
2 years ago
Reply to  chuckpezeshki

The other problem is that people just can’t deal with is the fact that everyone is going to find a salary. And if it doesn’t come from the government, it will come from ‘the interests’. Politicians are cheap relative to the outcomes delivered.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

Thanks for the book recommendation I will check it out.

Christine Thomas
Christine Thomas
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

The real talents looked to the City to make their piles. Public services and major industries and business steadily asset stripped. Second and Third raters left to do politics now no Empire to run and not much left at home to pilfer, until some bright spark cottoned on to the Treasury as their Alladin’ s cave. And that did become very interesting for some, both financially and politically.

Thanks for recommendation to read Isabel Hardman’s “Why we get the wrong politicians”. For what it’s worth, IMHO seems the right and left shared the same vanity – Britain could still play the political and moral policeman in world affairs, whether despite or because of its unique Imperial past, who knows?

.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

To paraphrase Michael Hopf, good times create weak leaders.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Matt Taibbi was on Joe Rogan’s podcast and they discussed this topic, it’s worth a listen. Matt’s father was also a journalist and he notes that during that time journalism was more a working class trade.
Now it has become a dumping ground for the children of affluent families. He explained some factors that exacerbate and reinforce that shift, such as the way journalism has become very closely adjacent to politics and the whole social circuit that exists there. A feedback loop happens where journalism fills up with the kids of wealthy elite types, and they all carry on socialising in the same circles, and then the journalism reflects the closeness (allegiance?) of the two sets of people.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Jem Barnett

I started listening to that podcast – first time listening to either Rogan or Taibbi – and it’s definitely interesting. I will listen in full this evening.

Jem Barnett
Jem Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I also didn’t know much of Taibbi prior to that podcast, but I enjoyed the conversation.

I would thoroughly recommend the Joe Rogan podcast episode with Michael Shellenberger. I wasn’t very familiar with him either, but that was such an intriguing and yet easy-listening chat, and I learned a lot.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jem Barnett
Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

We elect them, and what is worse, we re-elect them after we have no excuse for not knowing better.
Let’s start by looking in the figurative mirror. They are the ones we want, based on how we act, not what we say.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

There’s more than a grain of truth in that, but we cannot disengage from the political process. The question is, how do we push the political class we are lumbered with, in the direction we want?

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

We can only reject those who stand for election, that’s the route of the problem (also the root), so I think we need to examine and modernise the job of politician. See kblowrey’s comment above.

Christine Thomas
Christine Thomas
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Something much more toxic than just complacency I fear – complacency mixed with schoolboy cynicism generating vanity in place of genuine self-belief. It’s how Brexit happened. Psychological warfare on steroids one might suggest?

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Unfortunately, the chief qualification is extreme corruption in order to amass the quantity of money needed to “promote” yourself in today’s content jungle. I can’t imagine any honest and good person embarking on that marathon and making it past the first hurdle.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
2 years ago

A “no fly” zone can only be enforced by having fighter jets patrol the airspace over a warzone. The term is a dangerous misnomer designed to drag more actors into a conflict. In this case, more actors in an already horrific conflict would mean the start of WW3. Politicians need to me more careful with their choice of words.

D Glover
D Glover
2 years ago

What would happen if a British pilot had to eject and was captured by the Russians? Would he be treated as a POW or a spy?
Would the Russians offer to sell him back for a million dollars? OK, what if the price were a billion dollars?
What about the volunteers that Ms Truss is encouraging? Would they be shot as francs tireurs? Would they be offered back to us for money?
Our leaders need to think before speaking; we’re not ready for war with Russia so let’s not make empty promises.
Edit: Dominic Raab is saying that Putin could be prosecuted for war crimes. The killers of Litvinenko, and the attempted killers of Skripal, must be having a good laugh at that. Do our politicians realise just how impotent they really are?

Last edited 2 years ago by D Glover
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  D Glover

“We’re not at war with Russia”

What we are doing to Russia financially can only be described as a digital be-sieging. It may not involve a line of catapults or a naval blockade, but it is a siege nonetheless. Forcibly denying a country the ability to import or export products, freezing their central bank reserves, seizing the assets of their leading figures… these are all acts of war.

I’m not saying “do nothing”, but we need to give Putin an off-ramp, a way to declare victory for Russia and go home. Because a public failure will likely result in polonium in his vodka, so he has nothing to lose by going all-in.

Nicholas Rynn
Nicholas Rynn
2 years ago

What we need to do is get the Russian people to understand the consequences of not getting rid of Putin. Poverty tends to focus the mind.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

The whole crisis a feverish air of unreality to it. Support for the Ukraine has gone viral, objective reporting has gone out the window in most media establishments and politicians are desperate to be seen displaying their outrage to preserve their place in the polls. I’m unsure at the moment if this is just bluster or represents a real threat.

Exclusion from SWIFT was painted as a nuclear option but has only been partially implemented, leaving open the route for commodities to be traded still. The freeze on the Russia central bank seems more significant but it’s not clear how much of the asserts were still under western control at the time. Based on last years data it was around 66% but more recent estimates have it as low of 40% now and that’s if the freeze it total and not partial. The pledges of weapons are politically significant but since the conflict has already begun, transport and distribution are going to be a major issue and based on the reports I’ve read, the anti tank weapons the Europeans are sending are 1980’s equipment, peashooters by modern standards.

I consider myself somewhat a realist but our politicians are perhaps the true masters of the art, because a true realist accepts that they cannot be open about their realism, as it’s a morally unacceptable position to take in public.

Is the West feigning that they are straining every sinew to fight Putin, whilst knowing they cannot strike the killer blow or do they believe Putin is genuinely vulnerable and are engaged in a dangerous game escalation they think they can win? Time will tell.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matthew Powell
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Nah our politicians are realists, but they sometimes show their frustration with realism. Ellwood needs to be shut down. We just have to stand by now that all possible measures have been taken that can’t lead to a broader war, and watch Ukraine suffer. Just like Budapest all those years ago.
The huge silver lining is that the west has now united with some pretty radical actions, especially Germany, and some of the crazier policies (green energy in particular) are being filtered through this new Cold War 2 reality.

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

How about Belgrad and Kosovo?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

We were able to get involved in that debacle eventually, after the EU demonstrated its ineffectiveness, and far too late too.
But, you’re right to point out that distinction, as it is interesting that the west has been seriously activated by the invasion of Ukraine whereas it took a very long time to do much in former Yugoslavia – is that difference because of the existence of smart phones and social media?? (oh my god, it may serve a useful purpose!)

Last edited 2 years ago by Ian Stewart
Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
2 years ago

This is one of the most insane ideas in history. It is tantamount to sending in troops on the ground, and if that is what one wants to do, one should forthrightly make that case.
I also pick up on the author’s point that the Russians have so far held back on things like air strikes and artillery that would cause massive civilian casualties. He has his own reasons for doing that, but we should still be happy that he is holding back… and we should not do things that encourage him to unleash the furies.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Johnson
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

You mean like back his country him into a corner financially where defeat would mean a likely coup. Isn’t it fortunate we have leaders who have given him an obvious off-ramp to save face and not end up with polonium in his vodka.

Oh, wait…

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Johnson

I also pick up on this point. Has it occurred to anyone that Russia is holding off air offence in order to minimise civilian casualties rather than because of “inexperience of Russian pilots when faced with competent opponents.”
Please at least look at a Wikipedia page for NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, if you personally do not remember what happened in 1991-1999 in Central Europe.

Nicholas Rowe
Nicholas Rowe
2 years ago

If the Russians have gone mad, are we steadily going mad alongside them?
On 28 February 2022 the London Evening Standard published a cartoon that depicted Putin very much like the Kaiser was depicted in British newspapers in 1914.
And now once again after 100 years it’s become sweet and beautiful to die for one’s country. Or for someone else’s. 80 years of pacifism has vanished. The Great War poets writing about young men gurgling on their own blood as they expired is all forgotten. Goodbye to all that. Vera Brittain was evidently just an over-emotional Edwardian female. In 1914 it was plucky little Belgium. Now it’s plucky little somewhere else.
In all the media coverage about Ukraine we can get a flavour of what the press coverage was like in 1914, with all the vast torrent of speculations, well-meaning nostrums, conjecture, partisan rage, and the wheedling and plaintive emotional blackmail to get countries into war.
Some Tory MPs have become hysterical over Ukraine, one wanting all Russians living in the UK to be expelled. Never mind their human rights. This is reminiscent of the way German civilians in Britain were treated in 1914; being interned like animals in conditions so poor that some died. But never mind, Britain was fighting for civilisation. There are enough hypocrisies and temptations in great causes to damn the soul twice over.
Others parade the idea that NATO forces could get involved in a conflict with Russia confined to Ukrainian territory. In 1914 Churchill assured the cabinet that a future war with Germany would a be a cheap war for Britain involving the naval theatre only.
Today, we hear from those parties trying to talk up their side that we must stop Putin before he reaches London, that this is already World War Three. This is the equivalent of the Edwardian hysteria about the Kaiser invading Britain that was depicted in lurid novels of the time.
In the online press reporting in the UK, there is a detectable gleeful desire to humiliate Russia. The necessity of making peace as popular as war must be when it is begun made a moderate peace arrangement impossible in 1919, such was the desire to humiliate Germany.
Are we are all going as mad as they did in 1914? And if, driven to ruin, the Russian Federation collapses like Germany after the Great War, or like Czarist Russia in 1917, what then?

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Rowe

That is my worry too. That all the current Western coverage is looking more and more like 1914. In 1914 no doubt the allies thought that the Germans and the Kaiser were evil, but in fact, in contrast to WWII, there were no good or bad guys. The humiliation of the Germans at the treaty of Versailles may have felt good to the allies but all it did was lead to the rise of Hitler in 1933 and a world war that really was between good and evil. Perhaps it’s time to step back a little, reconsider the situation with Ukraine, assess what would be a reasonable arrangement that both Russia and Ukraine could accept (with Ukraine being realistic as opposed to demanding all or nothing). Obviously Russia has stated many times that NATO membership of Ukraine is a red line in the sand. Let us have the sense to understand why they feel that way and accommodate them appropriately. That does not mean appeasement. It means realism.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

A US imposed no fly zone means only US planes can fly there. The US does not control the airspace over Ukraine so they can perform this function. A no fly zone has been imposed by Russia. Shooting down Russian planes from neighboring countries means retaliation with Russian missiles. The Russian government made this explicitly clear. They will retaliate.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
2 years ago

Good piece..de escalation and a neutral Ukraine, which us what I thought the Minsk thing was about

We seem to have a generation of politicians/ngo types/media types in the West, who, like some of their citizens, have no idea what their irresponsible rhetoric will result in.

Sean Meister
Sean Meister
2 years ago

It was. Those same Minsk Accords everyone agreed to until the US intervened and stopped Ukraine from accepting. The US’ behaviour in Ukraine since 2014 has been memory-holed as it paints Putin’s invasion in a far more favourable light.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
2 years ago

There is an excellent thread on twitter somewhere which shows all the wise experts over the years who warned of the consequences of Nato expansion and Russian retaliation.

It includes Kissinger, Chomsky, a head of the CIA, a Clinton advisor and so many more wise men. I disagree with all of these people on other things, but the wisdom and intelligence of that generation is long gone, replaced by a bunch of idiotic narcissists like Ellwood who may drag Europe headlong into a war, the consequences of which will devastate us.

My local politician in Ireland is calling for Ireland to send weapons to Ukraine tonight.

I have no words to express my contempt for these people.

D Ward
D Ward
2 years ago

I’m not sure any thinking person cares what Chomsky says.

René Descartes
René Descartes
2 years ago

In calling for a no-fly zone Tobias Ellwood speaks from the heart not the head. Not quite what one wants from the Chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago

Mostly agree. But Ellwood may not be driven by self serving motives. The near crazy level of assertiveness both in words and meaningful sanctions from Ellwood & much of the other european elite may have two useful effects.  1) Encourage Putin in his possible pivot from permanent annexation > time limited operation to demilitarize de-nazify and then leave. (Allbeit the fierce Ukrainian resistance being 10,000 x as important.) 2) Discourage Putin from any ideas he may have for future invasions into eastern EU nations, as we’re suggesting that in extremis the west is no where near as craven as he may have thought. While not forgetting it’s the struggling working class who will mostly pay for the severe sanctions etc., its been most impressive how reckless even liberal commentators have been. As you say there is a major risk of merely encouraging Putin to even more extreme violence, but also as we’ve missed the boat by some years for restraining him by calculated rational means, a little craziness may be the best play at this point.

Tony Buck
Tony Buck
2 years ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

The West is as craven as Putin thinks.

Impressive Talk is cheap.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 years ago
Reply to  Tony Buck

‘Talk is cheap’ was for 2021. We’re in ‘Loose talk costs lives’ land now.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
2 years ago

Excellent article … but if Putin resorts to artillery bombardment of the Ukraine population the political pressure on the West for a No Fly Zone will be huge … not just from ambitious MP’s but also from large parts of the electorate.
It would be a highly dangerous step to take

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago

To be fair to Ellwood he has been pushing for UK/NATO to take a more direct approach for weeks in print and in parliament. Before the invasion took place, when almost every other commentator was ridiculing the notion that Putin would invade.*
So to characterise him as sending a “manic late night tweet” is very disingenuous of Aris in an otherwise decent piece. But of course all politicians bad, just tweeting nonsense and not understanding the real issues – unlike us journalists”
He is arguing from the position that we will be fighting Russia at some point in the future anyway, so better to act now. Which is not that crazy a position given by how far things have changed in a little over a week. I sincerely hope he is wrong on that count, though I am sadly not confident enough to say he is.
In any case a no-fly-zone is not a sensible option on an operational level. Take a look at how they have been used in the past:

  1. Iraq in 90s – Iraqi airforce had been all but destroyed after 1991 war, and was significantly inferior to US/NATOs.
  2. Bosnia in 90s – again against a significantly inferior threat. Losses sustained nonetheless.
  3. Libya in 2011 – almost unopposed against a vastly inferior enemy in technology and materiel.

In addition to all the points above, a no-fly-zone in Ukraine would be against a peer airforce with some of the worlds most (if not the most) capable ground to air systems in support. It would not be a no-fly zone at all but an instant air war on a scale not seen since WW2.
You might as well start sending ground forces to Ukraine.
*good old hindsight might suggest that a no-fly-zone prior to escalation into conflict might have deterred them. We know for sure that doing nothing didn’t. We will never know

Last edited 2 years ago by A Spetzari
Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

If you were Putin, and listened to the great Western leaders lamenting the fact that they will not stop you, why wouldn’t you simply continue with your plans? Case closed. Let’s all move on to the next “crisis”.

Barry Stokes
Barry Stokes
2 years ago

The forthcoming Tory leadership contest? Did I miss something while sleeping last night?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Barry Stokes

If it happens, Ellwood has just disqualified himself with these poorly considered comments.

jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
2 years ago

Well let’s hope that the Ukrainians at least have drones to shoot up the convoys. Then they are defending themselves, it’s not the US, UK or NATO doing it for them.

Jacob Smith
Jacob Smith
2 years ago

It seems the overall consensus here is that the west cannot commit to military support of the Ukraine because doing so risks turning this into a widespread war. Is that about right?

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

I mostly agree with this assessment, but for one thing, which is that it assumes the Putin will continue to allow NATO to decide where the red line is that divides direct action from the indirect variety.

Of the war goes his way, that’s probably a safe assumption. If it doesn’t though, and the reason starts to look like the indirect support the West has given Ukraine, that is not a safe assumption at at all. For this reason NATO needs a contingency plan that permits the rapid deployment of large scale military resources to Ukraine and Eastern Europe generally.

Putin’s ability to seize the initiative and control the agenda principally relies on the fact that NATO is constitutionally defensive and reactive. It’s time to get a bit more onto the front foot.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

NATO is a paper tiger, and Putin knows it. Once he takes Ukraine (I hope he doesn’t, but he likely will), I fear he will call NATO’s bluff. Say Russia invades Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and threatens a nuclear response against any country which strikes back. What do we do?

We won’t trade St. Petersburg for San Francisco. And everyone knows it. This was the flaw of NATO expansion from the beginning. England, France, Sweden, these are countries we have centuries of historic ties with. But promising to defend (with nuclear weapons) countries like Moldova or Latvia, which most Americans can’t even find on a map, was a colossal error in judgement.

NATO can either end gracefully (a gradual withdrawal of American support until Europe assumes alliance control) or catastrophically (imploding when Putin or Xi push the alliance to the breaking point) but it’s coming to an end one way or another.

Alex Colchester
Alex Colchester
2 years ago

“We won’t trade St. Petersburg for San Francisco”
A truly insightful comment. And we probably wouldn’t even accept Moscow in this deadly trade. MAD is increasingly shown to be flawed. The West has blindly stumbled into the darker realms of Game Theory- where it pays to cheat.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alex Colchester
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Completely agree. And it is absolutely true that even highly educated Americans could likely not place Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on a map, let alone Moldova. And speaking for myself, as a semi-educated Brit and American (with a fair number of credentials after my name, albeit as a result of work in a rather esoteric area of scientific pursuit), while I did know roughly (very roughly) where Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were, I’d never even heard of Moldova until now. Let’s face it, Moldova sounds like a place out of a Disney movie (e.g. the Prince and the Bride or whatever it’s called).

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago

A good article but a few too many questions which have no brainer answers.

Mark Duffett
Mark Duffett
2 years ago

I can’t help wondering what the difference is between Ukraine in 2022 and Poland in 1939. Were Britain and France wrong to come to Poland’s defence?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Duffett

Probably.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Mark Duffett

Irrespective of Poland in 1939, the issues in WWII were very different because then there really was a battle between good and pure evil (and I think nobody would dispute that Hitler was pure evil). The current situation is more akin to 1914. Putin is a bully and an autocrat, but he’s no Hitler, and it’s not like he and the Russians haven’t indicated to the West that having Ukraine as part of NATO is an absolute red line in the sand. The eastward expansion of Nato to small countries that nobody can even place on a map was a disaster.

Mark Duffett
Mark Duffett
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Easy to say now, but I’m not sure Hitler looked all that different in 1939 to what Putin does now. I thought the principle was more that you don’t invade peaceful democratic countries, less so the character of those perpetrating said invasion.

Jacob Smith
Jacob Smith
2 years ago

Frankly, you Europeans and your willingness to just let this stand because “Putin is no Hitler” strikes me as insane. Have you no concept of how the world works at all? Truly, I’m absolutely shocked.
If violent expansion into democratic countries is not sufficient justification for war, then there is none.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jacob Smith
Jim Dixon
Jim Dixon
2 years ago

test

rick stubbs
rick stubbs
2 years ago

When the Russians start leveling Liviv, they will become very vulnerable and NATO could vote to activate a forward defense strategy. Then or sooner, a blockade of Kaliningrad might come up.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 years ago
Reply to  rick stubbs

I for one wouldn’t want to see British troops killed over Ukraine, a country that while I have a great deal of sympathy for Britain has no real historical ties or obligations.
Personally I think the supply of weapons and sanctions on Putin has the balance about right, and unfortunately there’s not much more that can be done without risking a full scale war