Both right-wing and mainstream cable news have featured commentary from hosts and guests pushing the idea of a NATO-imposed “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, sometimes without providing important context about the possibility of escalation into a hot war with Russia.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on NATO member states to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, wherein NATO forces would fire on Russian aircraft conducting operations. Zelensky argues that a no-fly zone would help his military rebalance against the oncoming Russian offensive, and provide relief to civilians being assailed by Russia’s bombing campaign, but security experts think it would likely worsen the conflict and potentially bring the world to the brink of nuclear war. Writing for Responsible Statecraft, Quincy Institute senior research fellows Anatol Lieven and William Hartung argued that implementing a no-fly zone could be “one of the most disastrous foreign policy gambits ever taken by the US.” Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that a no-fly zone would lead to a “full-fledged war.” Spokespeople for the State Department and the Department of Defense, as well as President Joe Biden, have all acknowledged that the United States is unlikely to initiate a no-fly zone over Ukraine given the dangerous threat of escalation between two nuclear-armed militaries.
Echoing Ukrainian calls for assistance, both right-wing and mainstream cable news have made cases for direct U.S. military involvement in Ukraine. CNN anchor Jake Tapper pushed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on why the U.S. hadn’t yet saved Ukraine from “the slaughter” inflicted by the Russian military, while Fox News hosts Jesse Watters and Sean Hannity openly advocated for cyber and/or kinetic attacks against Russian assets. This eagerness to get into a war with Russia seems to ignore the potentially devastating consequences of the U.S. initiating that escalation, which could include nuclear fallout.
Mainstream and right-wing media have created a confusing message that a no-fly zone is a compromise, rather than a path to war. Polling shows Americans now support a no-fly zone, yet at the same time think the U.S. should avoid sending soldiers to Ukraine to assist relief efforts or fight Russian forces directly. A no-fly zone would require American airmen to patrol the skies above Ukraine, attacking Russian aircraft and ground targets threatening that airspace. Here are examples of both right-wing and mainstream media pushing for a no-fly zone, often without adequate context:
- On the March 4 edition of Fox News’ Hannity, Sean Hannity questioned Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's decision to reject calls for a no-fly zone, saying, “OK, so they won't stop importing Russian oil and they won't even have a no-fly zone?” (President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports this morning.)
- On March 4, retired Gen. Phillip Breedlove, formerly NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe, claimed on The Story with Martha MacCallum that “there are ways to construct no-fly zones” that would not bring American and Russian pilots into direct combat, and that “they can be built in a less bellicose way.”
- On March 4, Fox News contributor and retired Gen. Keith Kellogg pushed for a no-fly zone during an appearance on Fox News’ America Reports, claiming that “no plans are perfect, but there is a way to do and we should at least explore it.”
- On the March 6 edition of Meet the Press, NBC anchor Chuck Todd pressed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on his hesitancy to execute a no-fly zone, saying, “Why rule out the no-fly zone? Why not make Putin think it's possible?”
- On March 7, CNN anchor Brianna Keilar misleadingly compared the lack of a no-fly zone to the “bare minimum” countries like Britain and France did at the start of World War II, saying, “World War II with Poland — you saw France and Britain really doing the bare minimum. And ultimately we see Poland becomes – the invasion of Poland by the Nazis and then the Soviets becomes this gateway to World War II. How are we not — how is this not the same?”
- On March 7, retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman made a case for a no-fly zone on MSNBC’s Jose Diaz-Balart Reports, claiming that there is a way to “frame it, like a secure humanitarian corridor.”
- During a March 6 appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation, former U.S. special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker told anchor Margaret Brennan that there should be a no-fly zone: “We are not there to strike anything. We make clear to the Russian military we will not strike their helicopters or aircraft as long as they stay outside the no-fly zone.”
- On the March 7 edition of CNN’s At This Hour with Kate Boldaun, former first lady of Ukraine Kateryna Yushchenko advocated for a no-fly zone. She described the strategy as a cure-all, saying: “There's so much more that can be done to prevent something like that happening, from a no-fly zone, which would close our skies and stop the slaughter, to giving us the airplanes that we need and the equipment, the electronic defense warfare systems, the fighter jets, the Patriot and Stinger missiles, from a trade embargo, from much more thorough sanctions. I think there's so much more that could be done to not allow anything like that to happen.”