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US officials, lawmakers debate no-fly zone over Ukraine

U.S. officials and lawmakers debated imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine on Sunday while acknowledging possible plans to backfill the needs of Poland should it decide to send fighter jets to battle against the Russians.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine entered its 11th day on Sunday with no signs of slowing down, U.S. officials and lawmakers called on the Biden administration to consider a host of steps to take hold of Moscow’s offensive and support Ukrainians.

Debate swirled over whether to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which some warned could lay the foundation to start World War III. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said discussions are underway to ban Russian oil imports as its economy begins to crumble and acknowledged reports that the U.S. is giving a “green light” to the idea of sending fighter jets to Poland should Warsaw decide to send such military aid to Ukraine.

Ukrainian leaders, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have called on the Biden administration to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine, pointing to Russian attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian targets. Some members of Congress have also said imposing a no-fly zone should remain on the table amid Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

The administration, however, is holding firm in its opposition to imposing such a measure, arguing that it will bring the U.S. closer to a direct conflict with Russia.

“[The] president’s been very clear about one thing all along as well, which is we’re not going to put the United States in direct conflict with Russia, not have, you know, American planes flying against Russian planes or our soldiers on the ground in Ukraine,” Blinken told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

He emphasized that the U.S. is trying to “end this war in Ukraine, not start a larger one.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, sounded a similar note, telling ABC News’s “This Week” that “American troops will not be put on the ground or in the air to escalate this war and make this an American war against the Russians.”

No-fly zones are imposed to prohibit enemy aircraft from flying in certain regions and executing attacks on populations. To enforce such a measure over Ukraine, the administration has emphasized that it would have to shoot down Russian jets that breach the airspace.

Some on Capitol Hill agree with the administration’s assessment. Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) both said imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would put the U.S. at risk of entering a direct conflict with Russia.

Ernst, the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate, said on “Fox News Sunday” that Russia will have the “opportunity” to attack the U.S. and Europe if the U.S. establishes a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

The two Senators both said imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would lay the foundation for World War III.

“Basically, a no-fly zone is — if people understood what it means. It means World War III. It means starting World War III,” Rubio said on “This Week.”

At least one lawmaker on Sunday, however, said imposing a no-fly zone should remain on the table: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Asked if he would support a no-fly zone, Manchin told “Meet the Press” that all options should remain possibilities as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine.

“To take anything off the table thinking we might not be able to use things because we’ve already taken it off the table is wrong,” Manchin said. “I will take nothing off the table.”

As Russia’s invasion continues with no major breakthroughs from two rounds of peace talks, U.S. officials and lawmakers are looking at more ways to slow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stride and exploring further strategies to support Ukraine in its fight.

Officials on Sunday also talked about banning Russian oil imports in the U.S. Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the U.S. is engaging in an “active discussion” on whether to ban Russian imports of oil. He said he has spoken with President Biden and administration officials and is discussing the potential move with European partners and allies.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on Sunday said that if the U.S. goes down the path of banning Russian energy imports, he would like the gap in energy production to be filled with renewable energy and domestic fossil fuel production.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Sunday suggested that the U.S. impose sanctions on all energy companies in Russia and remove Putin from the international banking system.

“We know that the one thing that punches Putin in the gut is to hit his energy sector. There is no reason we should be taking money from an enemy. We should go ahead and sanction all of those energy companies right now. We should remove him from the international banking system,” she said.

And on the topic of supporting Ukraine, Blinken told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the U.S. is in discussions with Poland about backfilling its needs if it decides to send fighter jets to Ukraine.

The secretary of State, however, warned that the conflict in Ukraine may continue to unfold for some time. Asked by host Margaret Brennan when the sanctions imposed on Russia will stop the conflict, Blinken said, “I think we have to be prepared, unfortunately, tragically, for this to go on for some time.”

Tags Adam Kinzinger Antony Blinken Chris Murphy Joe Biden Joe Manchin Joni Ernst Linda Thomas-Greenfield Marco Rubio Nikki Haley Roger Wicker Vladimir Putin

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