A senior Republican senator on Sunday urged the US and NATO to “close the skies” over Ukraine, hours after a logistics hub and training base for foreign fighters 11 miles from the Polish border was struck by Russian forces, killing 35.
“The message coming loud and clear is close to the skies,” said Rob Portman, a senator from Ohio who is on a visit to Poland. “Because the skies are where the bombs are coming, whether it’s the missile attacks or the airplane attacks or with artillery.”
The US intelligence community has assessed that any attempt to create a no-fly zone would risk an escalation of the conflict. The US has also turned down a Polish offer to supply jets to Ukraine via an American airbase in Germany.
Asked if supplying Ukraine with Russian-made MiG-29s could trigger a third world war, Portman told CNN’s State of the Union he “did not know why that would be true”.
“The Russians have complained about everything,” he said. “Vladimir Putin has said that the sanctions are an act of war.”
Russia, he said, “complained when we provided Stingers directly from the US government, which can knock down an airplane and have been successful in doing that at lower altitudes. We have given [Ukraine] helicopters.
“… What we have heard directly from the Ukrainians is they want [the MiG planes] badly. They want the ability to have better control over the skies in order to give them a fighting chance. So I do not understand why we are not doing it. ”
Portman welcomed an indication from Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, that anti-aircraft systems could be provided. Sullivan repeated Joe Biden’s opposition to the transfer of “offensive” weapons while underlining US commitment to the supply of “defensive” arms.
The adviser told CBS’s Face the Nation the US and allies “believe in our capacity to continue to flow substantial amounts of military assistance, weapons and supplies to the front in Ukraine.
“We have been successful in doing so thus far and we believe that we have a system in place that will allow us to continue to do so, notwithstanding the Russian threats.”
Russia claimed the strike on the Yavoriv base was against foreign fighters and weapons. The US defense department spokesman, John Kirby, told ABC’s This Week no Americans had been at the facility.
“We had left, as you know, several weeks ago,” he said.
But Kirby reiterated that the US and allies would “continue to flow and to move and to reposition forces and capabilities along NATO’s eastern flank to make sure we can defend every inch of NATO territory if we need to.
“We’ve made it very clear to Russia that NATO territory will be defended not just by the United States, but by our allies.
“US troops are not going to be fighting in Ukraine and there’s a good reason for that because the United States getting involved in combat in Ukraine right now or over the skies of Ukraine right now leads to war with Russia.”
Of calls to supply jets or announce a no-fly zone, Kirby said: “We can all understand the kind of escalatory measure that might be perceived as.”
US diplomatic activity in NATO states has intensified, the vice-president, Kamala Harris, and defense secretary, Loyd Austin, visiting countries close to the warzone. On Saturday, the White House approved an additional $ 200m of military assistance for Ukraine.
“We are determined and the Ukrainians are determined to ensure that anti-tank, anti-armor, anti-air capabilities, ammunition and other forms of assistance actually do make it to the front to blunt the Russian advance,” Sullivan told NBC’s Meet the Press.
“We’re coordinating the efforts of our allies and partners to do the same thing.”
Last week, Biden warned of a “severe price” if Russia chose to use chemical or biological weapons. Sullivan said Russian claims about supposed Ukrainian bio-weapons labs signaled that Moscow could be preparing to do so.
“When Russia starts accusing other countries of potentially doing something, it’s a good tell that they may be on the cusp of doing it themselves,” he said.
“What we’re here to do is to deny them the capacity to have a false flag operation to blame this on the Ukrainians or on us, to take away their pretext and to make the world understand that if chemical weapons are used in Ukraine, it is the Russians who will have used them. And the response will, as the president said, be severe. “
Sullivan will meet China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Rome next week. Sullivan said the US was determined to enforce the economic consequences of Russia’s invasion and would respond to any attempts to work around western sanctions.
“We have made it clear to not just Beijing but every country in the world that if they think they can basically bail Russia out, they can give Russia a workaround to the sanctions that we’ve imposed, they should have another thing coming because we will ensure that neither China, nor anyone else, can compensate Russia for these losses, ”Sullivan told NBC.
He declined to lay out what steps the US and allies might take.
“We will communicate that privately to China, as we have already done and will continue to do so,” he said.
The economic consequences of the war in Ukraine, particularly around soaring energy prices, have yet to register heavily in US polls.
On CNN, Portman deployed a Republican attack line, blaming Biden for not expanding domestic drilling for oil. Biden has countered that US oil companies have not exploited existing permits.
A CBS poll released on Sunday found that 77% of Americans across the political spectrum are willing to pay more for gas as a result of sanctions to punish Russia.
According to the poll, 69% said economic pain now might be a wise hedge against bigger problems later. Americans largely believe Russia has designs on invading other countries.