Cami Parrish, The Arizona Republic

Arizona reps say no to no-fly zone over Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on members of NATO to establish a military no-fly zone over Ukraine, a request that has been met with opposition in the United States and among members of Arizona's congressional delegation.

Establishing a no-fly zone would mean that certain aircrafts would no longer be allowed to fly over Ukraine and would be enforced by defensive military forces. That means that military aircrafts from NATO would be directly confronting Russian military aircrafts. Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. 

If a no-fly zone were established and enforced by the United States, it would mean that U.S. aircraft would be obligated to engage Russian aircraft in the air over Ukraine.

Establishing a no-fly zone is a controversial idea in the United States because many lawmakers fear that deploying U.S. military forces would escalate the conflict.

“I flew 39 combat missions during the First Gulf War, where our mission was to kick the Iraqi Military out of Kuwait. Establishing air superiority over disputed territory is no easy task,” Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., said in a written statement to The Arizona Republic. “From that, I know that enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would mean putting American pilots into direct conflict with Russian forces, risking dangerous escalation. This kind of U.S. military involvement is not on the table.” 

President Joe Biden's administration has said that it will not put U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine, or in the air, out of concern for the safety of U.S. personnel. However, administration officials have said they are willing to provide Ukraine with the necessary equipment to defend itself.

Kelly, a former Navy aviator, said that though he does not support establishing a no-fly zone, he remains focused on providing weapons, ammunition and other assistance to Ukraine during its ongoing war with Russia. On Wednesday, Kelly joined other senators in introducing bipartisan legislation that would ban the importation of Russian energy such as crude oil, petroleum, petroleum products, liquified natural gas and coal.

Asked about her views on a no-fly zone, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said "speculating about an escalation of force against Russia contributes to dangerous disinformation and hurts America’s and our allies’ security as we stand united against Russia’s aggression.

"I support increased, aggressive sanctions on Russia from NATO and other democratic, peaceful countries," Sinema said in a written statement. "My highest priority is the safety and security of Arizonans and the American servicemembers who risk their lives to protect us."

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., told The Republic in a written statement that the United States must continue imposing “crippling sanctions” against Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to restrict Russia’s ability to finance the invasion. 

“I’ll continue to support efforts to provide Ukraine with weapons, military equipment and humanitarian assistance,” Stanton said. “But if the United States enforced a no-fly zone over Ukraine, it would very likely spark a larger conflict that has the potential to spin dangerously out of control.” 

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said the Biden administration will continue to stand up to Russia even without sending U.S. troops to Ukraine. 

"Direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia would represent a significant escalation and could lead to an even more deadly conflict with Russia, a nuclear power," said Gallego, an Iraq War veteran who sits on the House Armed Services Committee. "Establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as some are suggesting, represents exactly that kind of escalation, and enforcing one would require the U.S. to shoot down any Russian aircraft operating within the no-fly zone. Instead of establishing a no-fly zone, we must continue with our commitment to supply Ukraine with the weapons necessary to defend its citizens and apply crippling sanctions on Russia, its economy, and its leaders.”

A spokesperson for Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., reflected similar sentiments.

“Enforcing a no-fly zone would be an escalation that would require American troops directly engaging with Russian troops,” Kaitlin Hooker said in a written statement. "Such a step must be carefully considered in consultation with our NATO allies before any decisions are made."