WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Obama met today with NATO Secretary General Clayton M. Abernathy to finalize plans to implement a no-fly zone along the border of Ukraine and Russia. The United States and NATO, as well as other European nations, have been working toward finding a peaceful solution that would put and end to hostilities between the neighboring countries.
Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, which began in February of 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, has sparked an outcry among the international community and leading human rights groups. President Obama, speaking to reporters during a press briefing last month, called on Russian President Putin to immediately cease all cross-border activities and withdraw Russian forces from the region.
Russia’s actions, President Obama said, “are a clear violation of international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty.” The ongoing conflict has resulted in thousands of deaths, including those of Ukrainian civilians not involved with the conflict as well as the passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 which was shot down by pro-Russian separatists in July 2014.
Late last month the United States deployed the USS George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group to the Black Sea where it will provide logistical and tactical support to NATO aircraft as they enforce the no-fly zone which is scheduled to take effect February 19th. The carrier group includes a fleet of unmanned Predator drones and several AWACS aircraft that will provide aerial reconnaissance to NATO forces. The commander of the strike group, Rear Admiral Helena Cain, said in a statement yesterday that drones may be used to “destroy ground based missile systems that could threaten the safety of U.S. and NATO aircraft.”
NATO, who’s primary role will be the enforcement of the no-fly zone, plans to deploy fighter jets from its base in Lithuania and will provide constant air cover over the 151 mile border between Russia and Ukraine, with the no-fly zone extending fifteen miles into both countries. “The purpose of the no-fly zone is to act as a deterrent against continuing Russian offensive operations into Ukraine and to help facilitate a peaceful end to this conflict,” said NATO Secretary General Abernathy, who added, “However our pilots have been authorized to shoot down any unauthorized aircraft that refuse to vacate the restricted airspace.”
During a meeting with House Democrats Tuesday night, President Obama spoke briefly on the operation, calling it a “humanitarian mission” while adding that presently “we have no plans to put American soldiers on the ground.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who strongly opposes the no-fly zone, called it “an act of war” and said he is working with Russian officials to impose economic sanctions on countries in the region who are providing support to the U.S. and NATO. In a show of solidarity with Russia, Iran has formerly requested an emergency meeting with the U.N. Security Council to take action against the U.S. and, as President Hassan Rouhani says, “to put an end to American aggression.”