Could Polish Proposals for NATO Intervention in Ukraine Escalate to Wider War? Russia Warns Against Western Intrusion

Following the outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine on February 24, there have been widespread calls from across much of the Western world for the deployment of Western military forces to Ukrainian territory - most notably as part of proposals for a ‘no fly zone’ to deny Russian aircraft access to Ukrainian airspace. A Polish proposal from ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has further called for the dispatch of ground forces to Ukraine under NATO or some other grouping, which would threaten to provoke to direct clashes between Western and Russian forces. Although significant numbers of Western combatants have travelled to Ukraine, these have tended to be ideologically motivated volunteers with military experience - dismissed in Russia media as mercenaries. They have suffered heavy losses to Russian missile strikes and appear to have been made priority targets. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov slammed the Polish proposition, warning: "It would be a very reckless and extremely dangerous decision." 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov previously strongly criticised Polish calls for military intervention, stating: "This is demagoguery and NATO will understand that they need to be realistic. I don’t rule out that if this decision were to pass the bulk of the peacekeeping force would be from Poland and it would take control western Ukraine and Lvov. They would then stay there for a long while, and may be that’s the point of the plan.” While much of Eastern Ukraine is historically Russian territory, most of Eastern Ukraine was part of Poland until the 1940s when it became part of the Soviet Union - with Poland compensated with part of Eastern Germany. Discussion surrounding the possibility of Western intervention comes as the United States Navy has deployed a carrier strike group to the Mediterranean Sea within operational range of Ukraine, the purpose of which was “to deter Russians from further aggression and to be on constant standby for orders that might be given from our president or from other leaders around the world for the protection of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine.”

Calls were previously widely made in the United States in 2016 to impose a no fly zone over Syria, although military officials repeatedly highlighted that this would be impossible without going to war with Russia which had established a sizeable air force presence in the country the previous year. This is expected to similarly deter a Western effort to impose a no fly zone over Ukraine, which would entail shooting down Russian aircraft in Ukrainian airspace which operate there from both Russian airfields and those in neighbouring Belarus. Russia has long structured and modernised its military with conflict with NATO in mind, and deploys the world's largest arsenal of nuclear weapons. 

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