Former Nato commander pleads for no-fly zone over Ukraine, rejecting fears of war with Russia

‘How many casualties does it take before we take a different approach to this war?’ asks US general

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 06 March 2022 19:28 GMT
Zelensky says missiles hit Vinnytsia’s airport, reiterates demand for no-fly zone

A former Nato supreme commander in Europe has broken with the consensus of military leaders to plead for the west to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

General Philip Breedlove argued that the move – thus far rejected by the military alliance – could be carried out without the “bellicose rules of engagement” that could spark a wider conflict with Russia.

Earlier, the head of the UK armed forces became the latest military leader to rule out a no-fly zone, warning it could trigger an “escalation” if Nato were to shoot down Russian planes.

“A no-fly zone would not help. Most of the destruction is coming from artillery. It’s not coming from Russian aircraft,” Admiral Sir Tony Radakin argued.

But General Breedlove asked: “How many casualties does it take before we take a different approach to this war?

“I think there’s 42 million or so Ukrainians. Does it take 42 million to convince the west that we should have a different approach to this war? This is the question that needs to be going to leaders now.”

General Breedlove, a US air force general who served as Nato’s supreme allied commander for Europe between 2013 and 2016, argued that a “humanitarian no-fly zone” was possible.

It would be “one in which we go in with a decidedly non-bellicose set of rules of engagement”, he told Times Radio. “Those rules of engagement whereby we talk to our enemy, and we say we are not going to fire on you unless you fire on us,” he argued.

It would depend on whether, “even in Mr Putin’s heart, he could find a way to agree to some humanitarian relief”, he added.

Some defence experts assert that the west will be drawn inevitably into the conflict, if it drags on for years as feared, as countries continue to supply weapons and aid to Ukraine.

That view argues that it may be better to act now, to prevent Vladimir Putin from killing larger numbers of Ukrainians from the air.

But Mr Putin has upped the stakes by warning that the implementation by western leaders of a no-fly zone would be considered by Russia to amount to “participation in the armed conflict”.

Admiral Radakin told the BBC: “If we were to police a no-fly zone, it means that we would probably have to take out Russian defence systems, and we would have Nato aircraft in the air alongside Russian aircraft, and then the potential of shooting them down – and then that leads to an escalation.”

Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, echoed this view, saying: “We’re not going to get ourselves into a direct military conflict with Putin because that would be a massive escalation.”

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Everybody understands why we can’t have a no-fly zone, why direct military assistance is not possible.”

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