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Here’s How a US No-Fly Zone Over Ukraine Went From a Joke to Deadly Serious in 11 Days

When Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., first called for the U.S. to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine, his proposal was widely dismissed as dangerously extreme — but that was almost two weeks ago.

SO WHAT

Saving Ukraine could mean starting World War III.

HOW WE GOT HERE

During 11 days of fierce Ukrainian resistance to Russia’s brutal invasion of their country, the American stance on the no-fly zone has seemed to evolve from “Heck no” to “Who the heck knows?”

  • Here are the key moments:

DAY 1: On Feb. 25, a day after Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Kinzinger started an ongoing media campaign for an American-led no-fly zone, saying the move would give Ukraine a “fair fight” against Russia.

Colleagues and commentators overwhelmingly rejected Kinzinger’s call, with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeting, “No. This is insane.”

DAY 4: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Biden and NATO to impose a no-fly zone over “significant parts” of the country, telling Axios Feb. 28 that Ukraine “can beat the aggressor” if the Western allies “do their part.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said to MSNBC that accommodating Zelenskyy would violate Biden’s pledge to keep U.S. forces out of the war: “It would essentially mean the U.S. military would be shooting down 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.”

DAY 6: An Economist/YouGov poll released March 2 found that 45% of Americans thought it was a “good idea” to do a no-fly zone, with 35% unsure. But just 19% wanted to send in U.S. troops, as would be required, with 28% unsure.

DAY 8: On March 4, a Reuters-Ipsos poll showed that 74% of Americans were in favor of NATO-enforced no-fly zone, while majorities opposed U.S. air strikes or troop deployments in Ukraine.

Commentary editor Eli Lake tweeted that NATO should create a “humanitarian corridor or no-fly zone” for Ukraine and start what he said was an inevitable war with Russia asap.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg rejected calls for the Western military alliance to enforce a no-fly zone, saying it would require shooting down Russian aircraft and lead to a “full-fledged war in Europe involving many more countries.”

Zelenskyy slammed NATO’s decision and derided opponents of a no-fly zone as “weak” and “insecure.”

DAY 9: During a March 5 Zoom call with some 300 U.S. lawmakers, Zelenskyy begged for a no-fly zone, but even the biggest hawks in Congress remained opposed “because it would put the U.S. in a direct military conflict with Russia,” Politico reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would view any country that declared a no-fly zone “as participants in the military conflict.”

DAY 10: Amid a media blitz to get U.S. lawmakers on the record about a no-fly zone, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., responded on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday: “I would take nothing off the table.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on the same show that the Biden administration was not considering a no-fly zone because U.S. officials are trying to “end this war in Ukraine, not start a larger one.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaking for a continued congressional consensus, told ABC News’ “This Week” that a no-fly zone “has become a catchphrase” but “if people understood what it means, it means World War III, it means starting World War III.”

DAY 11: Twenty-seven U.S. foreign policy heavyweights signed an open letter to the Biden administration Monday calling for a “limited No-Fly Zone over Ukraine starting with protection for humanitarian corridors that were agreed upon in talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials.”

  • “NATO leaders should convey to Russian officials that they do not seek direct confrontation with Russian forces, but they must also make clear that they will not countenance Russian attacks on civilian areas,” wrote the experts, led by Robert McConnell, a co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation.
  • “The push runs squarely against conventional wisdom in Washington, but their missive will no doubt stir the conversation,” per Tuesday’s Politico Playbook.

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