What’s a no-fly zone? Why Zelensky wants NATO to enforce clear skies over Ukraine

Heappey grilled on NATO's rejection of 'no-fly zone' over Ukraine

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Russia has increased its aerial bombardment of key Ukrainian cities over the past week, as it continues its struggle to make significant gains in the war. The assault has led to civilians coming under increased threat, with one airstrike destroying a maternity hospital in the southern city of Mariupol. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky labelled the attack a war crime, and has called on the West to prevent Russia from flying its aircraft over Ukrainian airspace.

What is a no-fly zone?

An area from which aircraft are barred or restricted from flying, usually for security reasons, is referred to as a no-fly zone (NFZ).

They can be employed in a civilian context – such as during a major event like the Olympics – or over certain buildings.

Earlier this year, a NFZ was imposed around Windsor Castle to permanently limit how close aircraft can get.

Alternatively, these can also be used in war zones to stop an aggressor flying military aircraft over another country’s territory.

It’s designed to prevent the attacker launching assaults on civilians or military targets, or to prevent it carrying out surveillance.

To help enforce the zone, opposing fighter jets patrol the area in search of any aircraft breaking the rules.

Planes which are deemed to be rogue could be forced to land or escorted away, but ultimately risk being shot down.

Why does President Zelensky want one over Ukraine?

Russia has conducted a relentless aerial war against Ukraine since invading the country more than two weeks ago.

Key cities – including Mariupol, Kharkiv and Sumy – have been bombed for hours on end, day after day, in an effort to defeat the Ukrainian forces.

Russia claims it’s only attacking military targets. However the evidence so far has demonstrated that Ukrainian residents are also being shelled.

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Mr Zelensky has said the introduction of a no-fly zone would save civilians from attacks.

When the 44-year-old spoke in the House of Commons last Tuesday, he once again reiterated the need for the West to close the sky to Russian aircraft.

He said: “Please increase the pressure of sanctions against this country. And please recognise this country as a terrorist state.

“Please make sure that our Ukrainian skies are safe. Please make sure that you do what needs to be done and what is stipulated by the greatness of your country.”

Why has NATO refused the request?

Last week, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) rejected Ukraine’s request for a no-fly zone, after a meeting between the 30 members of the alliance.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said helping Ukraine protect its skies from Moscow’s missiles and warplanes would require its forces to shoot down Russian aircraft – a move that could result in a “full-fledged war in Europe involving many more countries”.

He said: “We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said that if NATO imposed a no-fly zone, UK jets would ultimately have to be “engaged in shooting down Russian planes”.

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