Kyiv pushes allies to create no-fly zone in western Ukraine

Kyiv, Ukraine — Lacking sufficient anti-aircraft systems to repel Russia’s unrelenting attacks, Ukraine is pushing its European allies to establish a no-fly zone in the west of the country by deploying air defense systems in neighboring Poland and Romania, officials told AFP.

Kyiv would like to create a safe space in western Ukraine where industry, energy infrastructure and civilians can be protected against the massive destruction unleashed by Russian strikes in recent months.

“I don’t understand why NATO doesn’t deploy Patriot systems along the Polish border,” said lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko, referring to U.S.-manufactured air defense systems.

“After all, Russian missiles have already entered Polish and Romanian airspace. This would protect the borders of Poland and Romania, and this would create a safe zone in the west and south of Ukraine,” he added.

That request was mirrored by several Ukrainian civilian and military officials who spoke to AFP in Kyiv during a trip organized last week by the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) and local think tank New Europe Center.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba opened the debate in May, saying there was “no legal, security or moral argument that stands in the way of our partners shooting down Russian missiles over the territory of Ukraine from their territory.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has spent months pushing for more air defenses from his Western partners, but fresh supplies have only trickled in.

Recent victories for Kyiv include Romania’s promise of a Patriot missile defense system, and the United States has said it will prioritize sales of anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine for the next 16 months to allow it to replenish its stocks.

But time is running out for Ukraine, which has seen half its national electricity production capacity destroyed in recent months.

Every week, Russian missiles and drones strike the energy network, causing daily power outages that affect almost the entire population.

Critical energy situation

Russia focused on shelling Ukraine’s energy distribution networks during the winter of 2022-23, but has recently been destroying energy production facilities, which are much more costly and take years to repair or rebuild.

Moscow is also targeting the country’s energy reserves.

A European diplomatic source says Russian determination was underlined when it struck a facility storing gas 3 kilometers underground in the west of Ukraine.

“In the energy sector, the situation is really hard,” said a senior Ukrainian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding he fears it will deteriorate further as winter approaches.

The official said talks were “in progress” with Western allies on a no-fly zone over western Ukraine using Patriot systems in Poland or Romania, “but that is not a simple decision.”

Western countries have been highly cautious about any moves that could lead to direct clashes with Russian forces and drag them into a wider war, which “makes this process slow and silent,” the official said.

But the subject could be discussed at the next NATO summit in Washington in early July, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna.

“We are doing everything we can to mobilize enough air defense elements to allow us to continue to be functional throughout the war,” she told AFP.

Kyiv does not expect any progress towards joining NATO, however, with Washington and Berlin still strongly opposed for fear of further antagonizing Russia.

“The chances of getting an invitation are close to zero,” said a Ukrainian diplomatic source.

But he said that Ukraine’s allies felt a “sense of guilt” about this, which plays into Kyiv’s hands.

That “puts pressure on our allies,” he said, to make “other strong decisions as alternatives.”

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