Support 100 years of independent journalism.

A no-fly zone over Ukraine risks igniting war between Nato and Russia

Those arguing for one need to explain how an escalation between nuclear powers would be avoided when aircraft start getting shot down.

By Ido Vock

PARIS – Should Nato enforce a no-fly zone (NFZ) over Ukraine? That’s the argument some officials in the West have been making, suggesting that the alliance should close the sky to Russian aircraft in order to support Ukraine’s defence against Moscow’s invasion.

A NFZ would undoubtedly help Ukraine’s defences by denying Russia use of the air to conduct strikes on Ukrainian positions and offer air support to its ground troops.

But as the Russia expert Mark Galeotti told my colleague Megan Gibson on the New Statesman’s World Review podcast, a NFZ is not a magical shield that can be conjured up out of nowhere. It must be enforced by Nato against aircraft breaching it, as Russia would not presumably be deterred from flying over Ukraine merely because the alliance had declared that the country’s skies are now a NFZ. That, in turn, would mean the alliance using its air defences and aircraft to shoot down Russian aircraft, and Russia targeting Nato air defences and aircraft. Both sides would eventually succeed.

What happens then? Say Nato aircraft are launching from a base in Poland, a Nato member. A Russian cruise missile attack on that base could lead Poland to trigger Article 5 of the Nato charter, which considers an attack on one member to be an attack on all. Likewise, Russia would likely consider a Nato plane shooting down one of its jets to be an act of war. That would leave both nuclear-armed blocs on the brink of an unprecedented confrontation, with the potential for a dramatic escalation.

And even if both sides managed to avoid an escalation the first time, there is no telling that the second plane shot down would not drag Nato into a war with Russia, nor the third, nor the tenth.

“I would be reluctant to rely on Vladimir Putin’s restraint and common sense right now,” Galeotti told me.


The people arguing for a NFZ need to explain exactly how they would avoid this scenario occurring when the first Russian or Nato plane is shot down. Otherwise, they are arguing for the war in Ukraine to escalate into a world war between nuclear powers.

Content from our partners
Why competition is the key to customer satisfaction
High streets remain vitally important to local communities
The future of gas
Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
THANK YOU

Topics in this article: , ,