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Jen Psaki

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during the daily press briefing on February 28, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Psaki Says Biden Has No Intention of 'No-Fly Zone' for Ukraine

"A no-fly zone is not a magical umbrella that prevents planes flying in a given area," said one expert. "To put in a no-fly zone is to go to war."

Jessica Corbett

Emphasizing U.S. President Joe Biden's desire to avoid a war with Russia, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki repeatedly made clear Monday that the administration does not plan to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin's long-awaited invasion of Ukraine last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Biden and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to take such action.

Psaki told reporters during a Monday press briefing that "the president has been very clear that he is not intending to send U.S. troops to fight a war with Russia, and I think what's important to note here is that is essentially what this would be a step toward, because a no-fly zone would require implementation."

Implementation "would require deploying U.S. military to enforce" the no-fly zone (NFZ), she said. That could lead to a direct conflict and "potentially a war with Russia, which is something we are not planning to be a part of."

Psaki made similar remarks in an interview with MSNBC on Monday, highlighting that an NFZ "would essentially mean the U.S. military would be shooting down planes, Russian planes."

"That is definitely escalatory. That would potentially put us into a place where we're in a military conflict with Russia. That is not something the president wants to do," she said. "Those are all the reasons why that's not a good idea."

"We are not going to have a military war with Russia with U.S. troops," and Biden believes it is "vitally important" to be direct with the American public about that, the press secretary added.

Psaki's explanations Monday echoed recent statements from other members of the administration.

Asked about a potential NFZ on Sunday, Linda Thomas-Greenfield told CNN's Dana Bash that "the president has made clear that we're not going to put boots on the ground. We're not going to put American troops in danger. So that means we're not going to put American troops in the air as well."

Warning that "a Ukraine no-fly zone would put the world on the brink of nuclear war," Vox's Zack Beauchamp reported Sunday:

The U.S. and its allies have used no-fly zones three times in the recent past: Iraq after the Gulf War, Bosnia during the mid-90s conflict, and Libya during the 2011 intervention. In each of those cases, the U.S. and its partners were facing vastly inferior military forces. There was no real question about their ability to take control over the skies.

Russia is an entirely different story. Its air force dwarfs Ukraine's; it is second in size only to the U.S. Air Force. An attempt to impose an NFZ in Ukraine would be nothing like these previous engagements, and it's not even clear that it would be possible.

...[The] risks of a direct U.S.-Russia shooting war are apocalyptic. In his speech this week declaring war on Ukraine, Putin all but openly vowed that any international intervention in the conflict would trigger nuclear retaliation.

"To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history," the Russian president said. "I hope you hear me."

Experts have issued similar warnings of the dangers of an NFZ in recent days.

"Don't know who all needs to hear this, but a no-fly zone is not a magical umbrella that prevents planes flying in a given area," tweeted Olga Oliker, the International Crisis Group's program director for Europe and Central Asia.

"It's a decision to shoot at planes that fly in a given area, including with one's own planes," Oliker added. "To put in a no-fly zone is to go to war."

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