No-fly zone remains too much to ask

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s whirlwind (virtual) tour of western legislative bodies this week amounted to a series of deftly localized but thematically similar entreaties for decisive action aimed at interrupting the Russian bombardment of his nation.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/03/2022 (201 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s whirlwind (virtual) tour of western legislative bodies this week amounted to a series of deftly localized but thematically similar entreaties for decisive action aimed at interrupting the Russian bombardment of his nation.

Specifically, the plea involved the establishment of a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine, and the wording amounted to a decidedly more eloquent expression of this: “Is it really too much to ask?”

In London, Ottawa and Washington, the reaction to Mr. Zelenskyy’s impassioned addresses was the same: a momentary abandonment of partisan divisions, a respectful and enraptured audience, and a shared understanding of — and deep sympathy for — the magnitude of the atrocities being endured by Ukraine’s people at the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invading forces.

‘Keep justice in history’: Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeals to Congress to do more

J. Scott Applewhite/Pool/AFP - TNS Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the U.S. Congress via video on March 16, 2022, at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

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WASHINGTON—Americans have a grand sense of their country’s place in world affairs — fancying themselves not just a big and rich and powerful nation, but one that acts as a moral force guiding the other countries of the globe. People here have often called their president the “leader of the free world.”

Over the past three weeks, that’s a title that many think applies to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he steadfastly leads his people in response to a brutal, unprovoked Russian invasion that continues to destroy cities and slaughter civilians.

When Zelenskyy addressed the U.S. Congress by video on Wednesday, he appealed to Americans’ sense of their global role — invoking past U.S. tragedies such as Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001 and calling on President Joe Biden in English. “I’m addressing President Biden. You are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukraine’s fight, he said, was being waged on behalf of the world, “to keep the planet alive. To keep justice in history.”

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The universally expressed sadness, reverence and support from British, Canadian and American lawmakers did not, however, alter one immutable reality about the current military obscenity being unleashed by Mr. Putin:

A no-fly zone really is too much to ask.

From Mr. Zelenskyy’s perspective, understandably, this is portrayed as a reasonable request. To couch it in such terms, the Ukrainian president shaped his presentations to create maximum emotional impact — offering, while addressing Britain’s Parliament, not-so-faint echoes of Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches; conjuring, for those in Canada’s House of Commons, images of Canadian children dying and Canadian landmarks being laid to waste by foreign missiles; and evoking, for assembled members of the U.S. Congress, memories of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.

No one who heard Mr. Zelenskyy speak was unmoved. And some elected officials stood before microphones after the address and called directly for the imposition of a partial or complete no-fly zone in response to the beleaguered but resolute president’s request.

Cooler heads, however, recognized that such a measure — dispatching NATO weaponry to shoot down Russian missiles and aircraft in Ukrainian airspace — would create more risk than relief; that while it might offer some much-needed solace to the bomb-shocked Ukrainian populace, it would also necessarily and immediately elevate the crisis in Ukraine to a full-fledged war whose expanse could become global and whose arsenal of preferred employment might quickly escalate toward nuclear.

“Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War Three,” is how U.S. President Joe Biden succinctly described it last week.

House Television via AP Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the U.S. Congress.

That does not mean the West can’t respond favourably to Mr. Zelenskyy’s urgent assertion that more must be done. Even more expansive and punitive sanctions should be imposed immediately, and the pace and volume with which arms and materiel are transferred into Ukrainian hands must be stepped up significantly.

And it doesn’t mean the point will not come when the limits of western indulgence of Mr. Putin’s depraved quest have been reached. As the shelling of Ukraine continues daily and the casualty counts rise, and as it becomes abundantly clear that the targeting of civilian structures such as apartment blocks, schools and maternity hospitals is not in error but in fact a perversely deliberate tactical choice, the moment might yet arrive when NATO nations and the rest of the western world are forced to say, “Enough.”

The hard diplomacy of the moment continues to call for the cooler heads that exist on only one side of this equation to measure their response in a way that avoids a tragic turn toward global conflagration. And as heart-wrenching and stomach-turning as the necessary choice is, the answer when Mr. Zelenskyy asks if a no-fly zone is too much to ask must be that yes, it is.

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