Former U.S. Ambassador Says No-Fly Zone Would Amount to Declaration of War

Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, says that implementing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would cause a war with Russia, saying: "We should stop calling it a no-fly zone and we should start calling it declaration against Russia to go to war."

McFaul told MSNBC's Katy Tur on Tuesday during an appearance on the network that he agreed with President Joe Biden's decision to forego the no-fly zone. McFaul, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 under former President Barack Obama, argued that the term was simply a less harsh way of declaring war against Russia.

A no-fly zone would prevent Russian aircraft from flying over Ukrainian territory, meaning that opposing forces—including potential American allies—would have to engage any plane that did so. The decision against the no-fly zone has been criticized by some, including retired U.S. Army colonel Alexander Vindman, who expressed his desire for the zone to be implemented during another MSNBC segment.

"I think a no-fly zone is the wrong move. I support the president of the United States on that," Mcfaul said.

Michael McFaul
Michael McFaul, the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, says that he agrees with President Joe Biden's decision not to implement a no-fly zone in Ukraine. McFaul expressed fears that the implementation of such a zone could lead to a war with Russia. Here, McFaul is seen during a book signing in Montana in 2018. William Campbell-Corbis/Getty

The former ambassador said that the term "no-fly zone" itself was a substitute for declaring war against Russia, something that only Congress is authorized to do.

"Let's just get rid of this euphemism 'no-fly zone.' Let's call it for what it is. It's war," McFaul said. "If we try to implement a no-fly zone, that means that an American pilot has to shoot down a Russian pilot. And if we do that, that's a declaration of war, and [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has been very clear that that's the way he sees it."

President Biden has continually asserted that he will not put American troops on the ground in Ukraine, a notion that McFaul said he agreed with. If the U.S. did end up going to war, however, McFaul said that the choice must be left up to Congress.

"If we're prepared to do that, if the American people want to go to war with Russia—I think it would be a mistake—but if we're prepared to do it, then we should have a vote in the U.S. Congress," McFaul said. "Because the Congress is supposed to declare war. That is what we need to do first."

"We should stop calling it a no-fly zone, and we should start calling it declaration against Russia to go to war, and I just don't think that's the right thing to do right now," McFaul said.

"Everything short of that, I support 100 percent," McFaul added. "Every weapon system on the planet, that we can send to [Ukraine], but I do not think that it is smart to send American soldiers to fight Putin's soldiers."

Tur then asked McFaul about his opinion on a proposed "limited no-fly zone," which would be used only to protect humanitarian air routes but would not be used to engage hostile enemies. The idea of such a zone was raised after a letter was penned to President Biden urging him to do so in order to put pressure on Putin.

The letter was signed by 27 former politicians and experts in the region. This includes William Taylor, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

McFaul, though, made it clear that he was not joining his colleagues in signing the letter.

"Those are my friends that put that letter out. I chose not to sign that letter," McFaul told Tur. "I'll tell you very honestly, I've signed other ones with them, I chose not to do this now."

"If you could get a guarantee, blessed by the United Nations, with Russia and Ukraine, all together, that we all recognize those corridors as being free and safe, then we should consider it," McFaul continued. "But we haven't done that yet."

Newsweek has reached out to McFaul and the White House for comment.