Home News Fear of going to war is holding back NATO aid to Ukraine – Pierre Haski

Fear of going to war is holding back NATO aid to Ukraine – Pierre Haski

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Fear of going to war is holding back NATO aid to Ukraine – Pierre Haski

11 March 2022 10:04

After the bombing of the Mariupol children’s hospital (defined as a “war crime” by the president of the European Commission) and the departure of half of the civilian population from Kiev, a city now almost besieged, the limited support granted by Westerners to Ukraine raises serious questions .

In recent days, NATO countries, the United States in the lead, have twice rejected the Ukrainian government’s pressing requests for assistance that could have made a difference against the Russian invader. The first request concerned the imposition of one no-fly zonean air exclusion zone over the skies of Ukraine, while the second consisted of a supply of combat aircraft to the Ukrainian Air Force.

The explanation of this double refusal is linked to the so-called “co-belligerence” and the fear of being considered as an active part of the conflict against a common enemy. This prospect scares the NATO countries.

Neither Poland nor the United States want to appear actively engaged in the war beyond military and humanitarian aid

The two requests have different implications. The first is simple: to impose one no-fly zone you have to be ready to shoot down an enemy plane in the Ukrainian sky. So there could be an air crash between the Americans and the Russians. In this context it is worth recalling the words spoken by Joe Biden before the invasion: “An American soldier in front of a Russian soldier means World War III”.

The second story is more complicated. The United States initially proposed that Poland deliver its Russian-made fighter planes (a legacy of the Soviet era) to Ukraine as they are immediately usable by Ukrainian pilots. Poland first refused, and then offered to hand them over to the Americans at a base located in Germany, authorizing Washington to send them to Ukraine. But at that point it was the United States that refused, creating a case at a time when Westerners are trying to block.

The second American refusal is also due to the risk of “co-belligerence”. Evidently neither Poland nor the United States wants to appear actively engaged in the war beyond the military and humanitarian aid they already provide to Kiev. There is a subtle legal difference between the delivery of an anti-tank missile and that of a warplane belonging to one’s own army.


During the war between Iran and Iraq, in the 1980s, France had supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraq by supplying Super-étendards aircraft equipped with Exocet missiles, taken from the French Air Force arsenal. In that case, Iran accused France of becoming a co-belligerent and there had been reprisals in the form of terrorist attacks.

In the case of Ukraine, everything is clearly changed by Russia’s status as a nuclear power, at the origin of Washington’s prudence. It is a frustrating and difficult reality to accept in the face of the images of Ukrainians’ suffering, especially in the eyes of the population, who feel they have been abandoned despite military aid and sanctions imposed on Russia.

However, the risk of escalation caused by cobelligerance is too high. Putin knows this well, and takes advantage of it against the Ukrainians.

(Translation by Andrea Sparacino)

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