It would entail “a full-fledged war in Europe” if NATO enforced a no-fly zone over Ukraine, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.
Speaking through a video link at the Ottawa Conference on Security and Defense, Stoltenberg explained that NATO made a “painful decision” on not declaring a no-fly zone over Ukraine because enforcing it would involve direct conflict with Russia and the escalation of the crisis.
“A no-fly zone would require massive attacks on Russian air defense systems, and it would require that we are ready to engage directly confrontation with Russian planes,” Stoltenberg pointed out.
The step would “significantly escalate the fighting in Ukraine, but also would risk a full-fledged war in Europe, involving NATO allies,” he added.
Such conflict between NATO and Russia would “lead to so much more human suffering, civilian casualties, and destruction,” Stoltenberg asserted.
He explained that “NATO has the responsibility to ensure that this conflict does not escalate beyond Ukraine because this would be even more dangerous, destructive, and deadly,”
Stoltenberg reassured that NATO has been “significantly increasing” its “defensive presence” in response to the crisis in Ukraine and plans more “long-term changes” of the defense posture in the southeastern flank.
He said Moscow “is failing already” in its efforts to achieve its goals through “violence and aggression” as NATO has strengthened its presence close to the Russian border and united Europe and North America “more than ever.”
He also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin could not hold “European nations hostage with Russian oil and gas instead” because they decided to diversify their supplies and move to renewables.
“Most of all, President Putin wants to snuff out the flame of freedom and democracy in Ukraine. But however dark the coming days and weeks may be, the flame will continue to burn,” he said, promising that “Europe and North America will help keep that flame alive.”
Praising the bravery of Ukrainian forces resisting Russia’s “illegal, brutal invasion,” Stoltenberg reassured that NATO stands “in solidarity” with its “partner Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly called on NATO to declare a no-fly zone over his country.
Besides sanctions, the war on Ukraine has drawn international condemnation and spurred an exodus of global companies from Russia.
In response, Putin said on Sunday that he will consider countries imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine as participants in the military conflict.
At least 474 civilians have been killed and 864 others injured in Ukraine since the beginning of the war on Feb. 24, according to UN figures.
Over 2.1 million people have also fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, recent data by the UN refugee agency showed.