US lawmakers Sunday expressed reluctance to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine as requested by President Volodymyr Zelensky, warning the move would put American forces in direct contact with Russian troops and potentially instigate World War III.
“A no-fly zone has become a catchphrase. I’m not sure a lot of people fully understand what that means,” Sen. Marco Rubio told ABC News’ “This Week.”
“That means flying AWACS 24 hours a day, that means the willingness to shoot down and engage Russian airplanes in the sky,” the Florida Republican told host George Stephanopoulos, referring to Airborne Warning & Control System plains outfitted with long-range radar to detect aircraft over large areas.
“That means, frankly, you can’t put those planes up there unless they’re willing to knock out the anti-aircraft systems that the Russians have deployed in, and not just in Ukraine, but Russia and also in Belarus,” Rubio said.
He said shooting down a Russian airplane would lead to World War III.
“It’s not some rule you pass that everybody has to oblige by. It’s the willingness to shoot down the aircrafts of the Russian Federation, which is basically the beginning of World War III,” he said.
Zelensky has made impassioned pleas to the US and its NATO allies to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine so that his forces would be able to battle Russian troops invading his country and to stop the bombing of “non-militarized zones.”
He said he implored President Biden, ” If you cannot shut the sky now, then give us a timeline. When will you do it?
“If you can’t provide a timeline now, tell us how many people have to die. How many limbs have to fly off of people’s bodies so you hear us? How many people will count, and we’ll wait until that moment when you feel comfortable,” Zelensky said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Biden has been “very clear” that he would not put US troops in “direct conflict with Russia, not have American planes flying against Russian planes or our soldiers on the ground in Ukraine.
“Because for everything we’re doing for Ukraine, the president also has a responsibility to not get us into a direct conflict, a direct war with Russia, a nuclear power, and risk a war that expands even beyond Ukraine to Europe. That’s clearly not our interest,” Blinken said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
“What we’re trying to do is end this war in Ukraine, not start a larger one,” he continued.
Russia warned Sunday that any country offering its airfields to Ukraine to carry out attacks on its troops will be considered as having entered the 11-day-old war.
“The use of the airfield networks of these countries to base Ukrainian military aircraft and their subsequent use against the Russian armed forces may be regarded as the involvement of these states in an armed conflict,” Interfax news agency quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov as saying.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) echoed the sentiment that a clash between US and Russia forces could quickly and dramatically escalate the military conflict.
“I think we need to be clear that we are not going to go to war with Russia. That would be the beginning of World War III, would drag all of Europe into a much broader war,” Murphy said on “Fox News Sunday.”
He said he understands why Zelensky would want the West to create a no-fly zone, but “the problem is there is no such thing as a no-fly zone over Ukraine.”
“If the United States put planes in the air, we would immediately be shooting at Russian planes. They would be shooting at us. We would be at war, and soon, Russia would likely be able to move into Ukraine their own air defense systems being able to shoot missiles at pilots who are flying above,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s in our interest, the interest of Europe, to have United States and Russia — the world’s two biggest, most-equipped nuclear superpowers — going to war directly against each other,” he said, adding that the US should provide more defensive and humanitarian assistance.
But Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said the US should keep its options open about putting US boots on the ground in Ukraine.
“You should never tell your adversary exactly what you’re going to do. I’m hopeful that with the right resources, the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian military will be able to defend their freedom. I hope that Europe continues to show up, and they are,” he told Greta Van Susteren in an interview that aired Sunday on “Full Court Press.”
“I mean, it’s frustrating that there was not enough done earlier to deter Putin, but now hopefully everybody will show up and do everything they can. But your hope is that you would never, ever again, ever have to put American men and women at risk. I don’t think you should ever take it off the table. But the goal here is to give Ukrainians the resources so they can do this on their own,” he said.