Rightly rejecting a Ukraine no-fly zone, West should consider humanitarian airdrops – Washington Examiner

Rightly rejecting a Ukraine no-fly zone, West should consider humanitarian airdrops – Washington Examiner

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No-fly zones cannot simply be declared; they must be enforced. In turn, the West’s declaration of a no-fly zone over Ukraine would require the suppression, and almost certainly the destruction , of Russian military targets in Ukraine, Belarus, and likely also Russia. This would very likely lead to a military conflict with Russia.

Still, there are alternative means of supporting Ukraine.

It is disappointing, for example, that a plan for Poland and Slovakia to resupply the Ukrainian air force with fighter jets has collapsed. If Biden administration pressure was levied against this plan, we need to know why.

But a still available alternative comes in the form of humanitarian airdrops — supplies dropped without planes actually landing — to western Ukraine and Kyiv.

Operating out of airfields in southern Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, or Romania, U.S. and European aircrews could drop much-needed supplies into Kyiv and its outskirts. Loading of the supplies could be supervised by the United Nations and International Red Cross to counter Russian concerns that the supplies included weapons or intelligence-gathering apparatus. For Ukraine, however, the relief impact would be significant. As Russia’s combined forces compress the Ukrainian capital, the city residents will face significant need for medicine, emergency generators, food, and clean water.

How might it work?

Flight routes from southern European airfields would avoid current areas of major conflict. They would also avoid airspace within the heaviest saturation of Russian air defense networks. U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 aircraft would be particularly well-suited to the specific airdrop task. Many European air forces also possess the C-130, or the A-400M transport aircraft which is also airdrop-capable. Considering the sensitivity of a NATO-led relief effort, the U.S. and British air forces could coordinate their effort with the European Union’s European Air Transport Command.

What would Russia do?

Well, the risk to aircrews involved is clear. Russian military attacks on the aircraft could not be ruled out. We should also be clear about the strategic context. This would not be the Berlin airlift, where allied troops were stranded alongside West Berliners. Neither is this Georgia 2008, when George W. Bush authorized a limited humanitarian airlift to Tbilisi. Then, a tentative Russian-Georgian ceasefire had been agreed to the day before the airlift began.

Success in Ukraine would require the airdrop’s truly multinational character and thus Vladimir Putin’s recognition that the costs of his obstruction would be in far excess of any benefits. Specific new sanctions threats to Russia’s energy export economy, its access to the SWIFT transaction network, and the assets of all major oligarchs globally would have to be held as a consequence for any interference. Of course, were Russia to shoot down any Western aircraft, those responsible would have to be countertargeted or the entire operation suspended. And the choice of suspension would cause significant damage to the West’s credibility, encouraging Putin’s understanding that he had drawn a bloody red line and found Western resolve wanting. This would endanger NATO’s broader deterrence posture.

That begs another question: Is this option even politically feasible?

Probably not at present. While the Biden administration has done an admirable job unifying a robust Western response to Russia’s invasion, it has been reluctant to take truly bold action against Putin. Biden has ruled out sanctions on the crown jewel, the only real jewel, of Putin’s economy, his energy export sector. It was only after the EU announced its intent to sanction Putin’s person that Biden then did so. It was also only after Germany announced it would supply Ukraine with Stinger ground-to-air missiles that Biden then did so ( a similar tale applies to Biden’s authorizing the Baltic states to supply Ukraine with Stingers prior to the conflict beginning). So also does Biden remain hesitant to support a Ukrainian resistance movement should a puppet government be installed in Kyiv. Similarly, support for humanitarian airdrops only finds tentative support on Capitol Hill.

Yet things may change as and when the full measure of Russia’s impending horror is delivered upon Ukraine’s civilian population. The shifting polls suggest that a growing majority of Americans support broader action to support Ukraine.

It would be prudent, then, for the West to prepare this option even if it is never employed.

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