Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, asked again on last Monday for a no-fly zone. Based on this article from The Guardian:

So far the war in Ukraine has not depended heavily on air power, on either side. In its invasion Russia has relied mostly on long-range missiles and surface artillery fire to attack Ukrainian targets.

So what is the reason behind Zelenskyy's insisting on imposing a no-fly zone if the war is largely based on missiles?


The question closed as duplicate of this question. These are not the same. My question is about cause of Zelenskyy's insisting on imposing no-fly zone. But the question that is considered to be same to my question is about how NATO can impose no-fly zone while it explicitly stated to not send any troop to Ukraine.

I am wondering about how could setting up such a no-fly zone actually be implemented in the current context. The announcement would be the easy part, but it is not clear how could NATO actually enforce it since it explicitly stated to not send any NATO troops to Ukraine.

  • @divibisan I know what is no-fly zone, my question is why does the Zelenskyy is insisting for it while seemingly it's not so helpful. Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 18:18
  • 2
    I think the assertion that a no-fly zone wouldn’t be helpful for Ukraine is very much in question. The fact that aircraft haven’t been used very much so far doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future, particularly if Ukraine’s air defenses weaken
    – divibisan
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 21:07
  • @divibisan I didn't mean that no-fly zone is not helpful at all. But I think Zelenskyy could used his credit for something else. Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 21:15

5 Answers 5


Well, the contribution of Russian aircraft to the war is not zero. I've read about a week ago that they fly some 200 combat missions daily, compared to 5-10 by Ukrainian side.

Also, the supply routes from Poland aren't so easy to target just with ballistic & cruise missiles. The Russians did hit some depots and barracks in that area that way, but interdicting actual road traffic is harder without involving aircraft or combat drones (which Russia doesn't have that many, although they have some Israeli ones built under license.) According to some accounts Russian observation drones have already entered NATO territory (in Poland and Romania).

Furthermore, if NATO forces get further drawn into the conflict that is good news for Ukraine, as long as that stops short of a nuclear exchange, I guess.

  • @Fizz Interesting how it says Russian in WSJ. I've read that it's soviet made and only used by Ukraine. hungarytoday.hu/… ; hungarytoday.hu/… Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 8:38
  • @AyamGorengPedes: only the one that entered Croatia was Soviet-made. The one that crashed 80km in Romania was a modern Russian one. The model that entered Poland and was then claimed to have been shot down in Ukraine is unknown. And Russia has captured some of the Soviet-made stuff that Ukraine still uses, e.g. they were seen on the captured Kherson airfield. Commented Mar 23, 2022 at 10:30

From a practical perspective, as noted by Fizz, a no-fly zone would be incredibly helpful to Ukraine in defending their country.

But the political reasons for continuing to ask for a no-fly zone are really important as well.

Locally, #1. it makes Ukrainians feel their leaders are actively asking for big things to help defend them; but also #2. It illustrates that long-term, the likelihood of NATO accepting Ukraine is low, so they’ll need to arrange alternative defensive strategies either internally - improving the pride and ownership and in turn motivation for defending their lands - or with other non-NATO neighbours.

Externally, #1. It repeatedly makes the west/NATO states feel incredibly guilty for not helping them in this way, so we’re more inclined to send as much as we can of everything else to help (and it is quite impressive how much is being sent both militarily and for humanitarian purposes; alongside sanctions, boycotts, etc); #2. It distracts the focus from the concrete military aid that is actually being delivered, and by being in the back channels, Russia will be less aware of what’s being sent.

Personally, I think its a brilliant approach.

(Aside: I don’t have the time to provide citations/sources - feel free to edit/add as desired)

  • 1
    "It distracts the focus from the concrete military aid that is actually being delivered"- it might distract the public, but won't distract Russia
    – vsz
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 6:08
  • 2
    It doesn't have to distract Russia; it has to distract "war is bad; better surrender than die; don't deliver weapons into a war zone" voices in the west. Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 6:42

As the other answers pointed out, a "no-fly zone" means a shooting war between NATO and Russia. Which is probably to Ukraine's benefit. Unless it goes nuclear on their territory.

But Ukraine has been very good in tailoring their public diplomacy to different audiences. In the UK they quote Churchill. In Israel they warn of a Final Solution and a country being wiped off the map. They ask for German helmets and then complain that they got helmets and not howitzers. They demand that an end to buying Russian gas while gas is pumped through Ukraine.

All perfectly understandable when one assumes that they are the most recent victim of Russian aggression, not the only one, and need to keep the Western public attention focussed for the benefit of them all. But Ukrainian interests in this differ from those of NATO and the EU, especially where it comes to a direct confrontation with Russia.

  • "They demand that an end to buying Russian gas while gas is pumped through Ukraine.". I don't know how true is this statement but wondering 1) what will happens to EU if the pipeline is cut off by Ukrain, and 2) if the pipeline is significant, why Russia takes the risk to bomb the region, or they have found ways to avoid the collateral damage to the pipeline?
    – r13
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 23:51
  • @r13 Russia is building Nord Stream 2 specifically to bypass Ukraine. Which is opposed by Ukraine for obvious reasons.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 4:29
  • @r13, the EU would have to go to other sources and/or use their storage reserves. Percentages differ, Germany uses half Russian gas, some smaller countries closer to 100%. The storage is almost empty after the winter, but that is normal after a winter. The real crunch would come next winter. It could mean shutting some energy-intensive industries down.
    – o.m.
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 5:46
  • I disagree. Energy supply and uses can't be switched on and off quickly without the suffering of the people and their economy that rely/depend on it. Your answer implies Ukraine willingly allows Russian oil continues to flow to EU through its land, it is true for 2 thinkable reasons: 1) Before the war, Ukrain is willingly to accept it as the pipeline can be a deterrent for invasion from Russia, and it benefits all parties involved. 2) Since the invasion, Ukrain elected not to blow it up so not to cause severe disturbance on EU countries, thus causing EU to turn its heads against Ukraine.
    – r13
    Commented Mar 21, 2022 at 15:58

Setting up a no-fly zone is likely to start a war. "No-fly zone" is a less aggressive term than just war.

Questions about people's internal motivations are hard to answer. However, from a purely rational perspective, one would stand to gain:

  • A slim chance that it will actually happen.
  • Extreme requests setting an anchor, making less-extreme decisions seem mild in comparison.
  • If it actually happens, pathway to further escalation.

A no-fly zone can lead to response strikes against NATO air defenses. Combat pilots are trained to counter-attack hostiles, and national borders aren't visible from the cockpit of a fighter jet.

All warfare includes collateral damage. Planes shot down, missiles deflected by countermeasures, can eventually lead to hits on NATO soil. Once that happens, there is likely to be more support for NATO entering a full-scale war.

For Ukraine, it would mean distracting Russian forces and a considerably better chance of winning.


Feelings (of indignation, betrayal, etc.), are for the general public. Decision makers in international relations do their decisions based on rational interests rather than emotions. However, they have to placate the general population.

Sooner or later, there will be a peace deal. This means they will have to make concessions. The main Russian demands are (and have been for many years) Crimea, and some kind of guarantee that Ukraine won't join NATO. They might or might not have other goals depending on how well the war would go in their favor, but the above two goals are goals they won't likely back out of, ever.

This means, that if Zelenskyy wants an end to the war, he will have to concede in some way along these points. He recently already stated to be ready to concede in the topic of NATO membership.

However, after the end of the war, the government has to justify their decisions to the public, otherwise they will lose the next election, or maybe even be ousted in a coup if those decisions are too unpopular.

So, if he accepts the Russian demands from the get go, he will likely be considered a coward and a traitor. However, if he says "look, NATO promised a lot of help, but they aren't helping, they betrayed us", then he can justify agreeing to the "don't enter NATO" demand the Russians are pressuring him about, without losing face. Demanding action from NATO which he knows NATO will never agree to (because NATO doesn't want to start WW3), allows him the possibility to say that he won't pursue NATO membership, not because the Russians forced him, but because NATO "betrayed him". Several of his recent statements support this narrative of him.

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