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The Sunday Lunch: Government Resists Ukrainian Calls For No Fly Zone

5 min read

The government is sticking with its refusal to push for a no fly zone over Ukraine despite the war-torn country's president warning Russian bombs will kill many innocent people without Nato action.

Both Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister and justice secretary, and the professional head of the British armed forces said this morning that it would be wrong for western governments to impose a no fly zone over Ukraine because it would trigger a dangerous escalation of the conflict.

In other developments:

  • The Home Office is being urged to offer refuge to Ukrainian teachers and students at British interntional schools in the war-torn country, PoliticsHome reported.
  • Ukrainians fleeing their country fear time is running out for the UK to ease its refugee rules.

  • Russian soldiers resumed their shelling of residential areas of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol within two hours after a ceasire was declared. The city has been without water and power for nearly a week, and food is starting to run out, the BBC reported.

  • Writing for The New York Times, Boris Johnson said the west had not done enough for Ukraine and set out a "six-point plan" for stepping up its response. The Prime Minister said Nato had become complacent and that the alliance must "restore effective deterrence" in Europe.

In practice, a Nato-no fly zone over Ukraine would mean western aircraft patrolling the skies above the country to keep out Russian military planes. Russian planes that enter the zone would be told to land or be escorted away, or face being shot down if they refused to comply.

Raab told BBC's Sophie Raworth that a no fly zone would also have the unintended consequence of "giving succour" to Vladimir Putin's false narrative that Russia is defending itself from the West.

"We understand their plight and that he [Zelenskyy] wants everything done," he said on Sunday.

"We have been clear all along – not just the UK but our allies, too – that we are not going to engage Putin in direct military confrontation. That is giving succour to his argument that he’s actually in a conflict with the west".

The Cabinet minister added that the UK strategy of severe financial sanctions on the Russian economy and oligarchs, combined with support for the Ukrainian military, was "the right strategy".

Raab was backed by Admiral Tony Radakin, the head of the British armed forces, who in his own interview with the BBC on Sunday said "the last thing" the UK wants is a war between Nato and Putin, which a no fly zone would make more likely.

"This is a really difficult, desperate and awful situation for the people of Ukraine but we also have to be sensible in acknowledging that we want to avoid a war with Russia," he said.

"That would lead to a terrible situation getting even worse. The last thing we want is a war between NATO and Russia and increased escalation.”

Radakin added that a no fly zone would have limited strategic benefit as most of the Russian shelling of Ukraine is being carried out by artillery (land forces), rather than aircraft.

Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, criticised the refusal of western allies to impose a no-fly zone, saying "certain leaders" were thinking about what could happen as a result of doing so rather than what what it would stop happening.

"We know their intelligence confirms further severe attacks on the civil population, including carpet bombardment which are happening today in some cities," she said.

Elsewhere Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, called on Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee to investigate the decision to award a peerage to Russian businessman Evgeny Lebedev.

His remarks followed The Sunday Times reporting that Boris Johnson pressed ahead with the nomination of Lebedev, the son of an ex-KGB agent and owner of the Evening Standard and Independent newspapers, despite intelligence officials having raised concerns about him.

The House of Lords Appointments Commission (Holac), which vets peerages, Johnson in 2020 advising him against granting Lebedev a seat in the Lords. The Prime Minister is reported to have responded to the advice by claiming: “This is anti-Russianism."

The letter was based on intelligence provided by MI5 and MI6, and handed to the commission by the Cabinet Office. Holac would later receive an update about Lebedev that advised the security services no longer deemed his peerage to be a problem, the Sunday Times reported.

Starmer told the BBC that the claim "goes to the heart of national security" and said "there's at least a suggestion the Prime Minister was warned there was a national security risk".

Responding to Starmer's call for a committee investigation, Raab told the Labour leader to provide evidence for the claims set out by The Sunday Times. "There is a strict and stringent process when anyone is granted a peerage – I know it was applied very rigorously in this case," he said.

Raab in his interview warned that the conflict in Ukraine would continue for months, and that "anyone who thinks this will be resolved in days is deluding themselves".

The deputy prime minister said Putin's targeting of Ukrainian civilians was "brutal and barbaric" and those who carried out his orders would face war crime charges.

"As well as steeling the Ukrainian ability to resist and keeping up the financial sanctions so Putin fails, this week we’ve seen talk from the International Criminal Court prosecutor saying they will look very carefully at war crimes," Raab told the BBC.

"There can be no impunity for anything Putin does, or indeed their commanders.

"One of those things going through their mind must be if they get an illegal order to bombard civilians should it be carried out as there’s a very real risk they’ll end up in prison”.

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