he Royal Air Force’s former commander of operations has challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s opposition to a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Former Air Marshal Greg Bagwell began his career as a fast jet pilot, and was the RAF’s Deputy Commander Operations from 2013 until 2016.
Speaking exclusively to the PA news agency, Air Marshal Bagwell criticised western leaders for taking a no-fly zone “off the table”.
“I completely recognise all the limitations, all the risks, all the potential pitfalls of any action, let alone a no-fly zone. But why take it off the table? It just makes the job of the bad guy easier,” he said.
Air Marshal Bagwell also said that the imposition of a no-fly zone could be done under the auspices of the United Nations, rather than Nato.
“I was disappointed to see that everybody immediately turned this into a Nato versus Russia,” he said.
“Most no-fly zones I’m aware of, and I’ve flown on, have been under UNSC (United Nations Security Council) mandates or resolutions.”
He added: “The reason why I think it has got to be UN is I think it needs that universal mandate…this is not a binary fight between him (Russian President Vladimir Putin) and Nato. This is him versus the world.”
Mr Johnson has previously ruled out allies enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, warning that “the UK would be engaged in shooting down Russian planes…that’s not something we can do”.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has also rejected the calls, saying such a move would lead to an escalation of the conflict and the triggering of Nato’s Article Five, and that it would also have to apply to Ukrainian jets.
But Air Marshal Bagwell told PA that such a system would not need to apply to Ukrainian jets.
“What we’d do is create corridors from Ukrainian airfields to operating zones over concentrations of Russian troops,” he said.
“Whatever the Ukrainians want, we would then give them freedom of mass action within those areas…it would make them more effective because they would now be able to operate with relative impunity.”
Responding to concerns surrounding the triggering of Nato’s Article Five should a Nato aircraft be shot down over Ukraine, Air Marshal Bagwell said Nato could suspend Article 5 being applied to such an incident, in order to take the “Article Five trigger off the table”.
He also proposed being “crystal clear” with Russia as to how a no-fly zone would work, ensuring there would be “no secret tripwires out there that he needs to be wary of”.
He called for the terms of the no-fly zone to be outlined publicly, including that any Russian aircraft, flying in Ukrainian airspace, would be considered hostile and shot down.
Jets would not have to get “really close to do this”, he said.
“If a Russian aircraft wants to cross the Ukrainian boundary and start heading towards Kyiv, we can reach out and ‘touch’ that aircraft long before it gets to Kyiv, whilst we sit well south of Kyiv while it is happening?
“When you start to look at the geometry, this all of a sudden isn’t quite as high risk as everyone makes it out to be.”
Inna Sovsun, a Ukrainian MP and deputy leader of the Holos Party, is one of many politicians from the country to call for a no-fly zone, also including President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Speaking to PA, the 37-year-old pointed to an attack on a residential building in Chernihiv on Thursday, where at least 47 civilians were killed according to local authorities.
“Because of one missile strike,” she added.
“What they’re doing right now is terrible, they’re killing Ukrainians from the air.
“Despite the huge efforts of the Ukrainian army, we cannot help ourselves (in the) air just with our efforts.
“This narrative that we are hearing from the West… ‘there will be a way for (a) diplomatic solution’ – what diplomatic solution? They are throwing bombs on our heads.”
On Thursday she shared a photograph of a drawing she said was drawn by her nine-year-old son, Martyn, in which he drew a city with the words “no fly zone” written above.
Ukrainian leaders have also raised concerns that aid is not reaching areas of the country due to the bombardment.
Air Marshal Bagwell responded to this, and said a no-fly zone would allow for the safe passage of humanitarian aid to be flown into the country.