Ben Wallace says no-fly zone over Ukraine would HELP Putin's forces

Ben Wallace says imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would HELP Putin’s ground forces by allowing them to advance more freely – as he suggests ordinary Russians could revolt after Western sanctions

  • Ben Wallace again rejected calls for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine
  • Defence Secretary said it would risk a direct confrontation with Russian forces
  • He suggested it would also allow Russian forces to move around with ‘impunity’  

Imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would help Russian forces, Ben Wallace insisted today.

In a round of interviews, the Defence Secretary flatly rejected suggestions that NATO should close down airspace – saying it would risk a direct conflict with Moscow.

But he also argued that it would benefit Vladimir Putin’s military because it would be able to move around ‘with impunity’, rather than facing strikes from Kyiv’s planes.

Ukraine war: The latest 

  • Russian paratroopers land in Ukraine’s second city amid heavy fighting
  • ‘There are practically no areas left in Kharkiv where an artillery shell has not yet hit’: Interior Ministry official 
  • Joe Biden brands Vladimir Putin a ‘dictator’ in his annual State of the Union address as he bans Russian aircraft from US airspace
  • Russia steps up its bombing campaign and missile strikes, hitting Kyiv’s main television tower, two residential buildings in a town west of the city and the city of Bila Tserkva to the south of the capital
  • Russian forces push into the besieged Black Sea city of Kherson in the south
  • Russian attacks leave Mariupol, another Black Sea port further to the west without electricity
  •  More than 677,000 people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion, the UN’s refugee agency says
  • The UN’s International Court of Justice says it will hold public hearings on March 7 and 8 over Ukraine’s allegations of ‘genocide’ by Russia
  • Russia blocks an independent television channel and a liberal radio station, tightening a virtual media blackout
  • A string of Western companies announce they are freezing or scaling back business with Russia
  • Russians race to withdraw cash after the introduction of capital controls and as the ruble hits record lows 
  • Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 goes insolvent after Germany halts the pipeline following Moscow’s invasion
  • Oil prices soar past $110 a barrel, despite agreements to release 60 million barrels from stockpiles
  • The World Bank prepares a $3-billion aid package for Ukraine, including $350 million in immediate funds  

As fierce fighting continued in Ukraine on the seventh day of the invasion, Mr Wallace warned that the struggle is set to continue for years.

He said Putin had expected to be welcomed as a ‘Great Tsar’ by the population, and deployed the wrong tactics and ‘ill-prepared young junior soldiers’.

The Russian leader also blundered by failing to predict the strength of the Western sanctions response – and could now face a revolt from ordinary Russians as the country’s economy crumbles.     

‘I think he’s about to be shocked because this is the 21st century and Russian people just like European people don’t want to go through what they are about to go through,’ he told Sky News. 

Russian troops have entered Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv following days of intensive bombardment, but Mr Wallace said Mr Putin’s forces did not yet control it.

The Ministry of Defence said the latest intelligence suggested Russian forces had reportedly moved into the centre of Kherson in south Ukraine.

Artillery and air strikes have targeted built-up areas in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Chernihiv.

But Mr Wallace said the advance of Russian forces continued to be slowed by a combination of overstretched logistics, poor morale and brave resistance by Ukrainian fighters.

‘The Russians are considerably behind their schedule, by days not hours, and that leads to stresses on their logistical supply chains,’ he told the BBC.

‘That’s why you have seen some of these columns fairly grind to a halt.

‘They have also been surprised by the strength of the Ukrainian resistance.’

He told BBC Breakfast that ‘none of the major cities have been taken control of’.

There was ‘huge amounts of low morale in the Russian forces, we’ve seen lots of surrenders’.

‘But that doesn’t take away from the fact you have a very ruthless Russian armed forces leadership and a president who seems to know no limit to how much violence they will use to achieve their aims.’

The lack of progress in meeting the aims of the invasion had led to a change in tactics, focusing on aerial and artillery bombardment of cities rather than the kind of lightning mobilised armoured advances originally envisaged by the Kremlin, Western military experts believe. 

The aftermath of a strike in Kharkiv today as fierce fighting continues in Ukraine on the seventh day of the invasion

In a round of interviews, Ben Wallace flatly rejected suggestions that NATO should close down airspace – saying it would risk a direct conflict with Moscow

Mr Wallace said Vladimir Putin (pictured) could now face a revolt from ordinary Russians as the country’s economy crumbles

Mr Wallace told Sky News that meant a plan to ‘carpet-bomb cities, indiscriminately in some cases’.

He told the BBC that siege tactics were in the Russian military doctrine, with forces surrounding a city before they ‘bombard it indiscriminately and then eventually close in on a population that they hope to have broken, and indeed take over what’s left of the city’.

‘We’ve seen that in Chechnya before,’ he said.

But Ukraine was a different proposition because of its size and population.

He warned that an occupying force would face the kind of insurgency faced by the Soviets in Afghanistan or the UK and Western allies in Iraq.

‘Invading a country with overwhelming force is one thing, occupying a people of 44 million who don’t want you in it is a very different thing.’

After Boris Johnson was berated by a Ukrainian activist that he was ‘afraid’ to protect civilians by imposing a no-fly zone, Mr Wallace said a no-fly zone would also have to apply to Ukrainian jets, meaning they could not target Russian forces from the air.

‘If you had a no-fly zone in Ukraine, the overwhelming scale of the Russian army would be able to drive around with impunity, which it can’t at the moment,’ he said.

Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Russia is trying to erase Ukraine with renewed attacks on all fronts including an expected assault on the city which houses Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

Zelensky, who has become a symbol of Ukrainian defiance and courage since the war began, told his people today that Russians ‘know nothing about our capital. About our history. But they have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all.’

Russian armoured vehicles and trucks are pictured rolling through the centre of Kherson, as Moscow claimed to be in control of the city but Ukraine said it still holds key government buildings

The president, unshaven and wearing a military-style khaki T-shirt, said the West’s response was not enough, calling for more international support, including backing Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union. ‘This is no time to be neutral,’ he added.

As he spoke, troops were preparing barricades to defend the city of Zaporizhzhia – including setting up defences around the reactors of Energodar power plant. Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, called on generals to bypass the city while warning they could create a ‘new Chernobyl’ if the plant is damaged.

‘Because of Putin’s madness, Europe is again on the brink of a nuclear catastrophe,’ he wrote on Facebook. ‘The city where the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is located is preparing for a battle with the invaders. 

‘An accident can happen like at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant or the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Russian generals – think again! Radiation does not know nationalities, does not spare anyone!’  

Fighting was also underway in Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv after Russian paratroopers dropped in and attacked a military hospital before airstrikes targeting police, state agencies and the security service. Part of Karazin National University was on fire early Wednesday after a missile – seemingly intended for the neighbouring police headquarters or interior ministry – struck the college’s department of sociology instead. 

At least 21 people have been killed an 112 wounded in shelling on Kharkiv in the last 24 hours, governor Oleg Synegubov said, as an interior ministry official added: ‘There are practically no areas left in Kharkiv where an artillery shell has not yet hit.’

Putin’s forces also claimed to have captured Kherson, a major industrial centre in the south, overnight though the mayor remained defiant – posting on Facebook: ‘We are still Ukraine. Still firm.’ Mariupol, also in the south, came under renewed shelling as Russian forces try to surround it.

In Zhytomyr, a city to the west of Kyiv, airstrikes hit the headquarters of the 95th Ukrainian armed forces brigade while also damaging a hospital, leaving two people dead. The city of Bila Tserkva, some 50 miles south of Kyiv, was also hit overnight. 

Ukraine’s armed forces said Wednesday morning that Russia is ‘trying to advance in all directions’ but are ‘being resisted everywhere and suffering losses’. It estimates that 5,840 Russian troops have been killed so far – though that figure cannot be verified. 

Despite the near-universal condemnation of the war internationally, a new state poll in Russia taken over the weekend showed support for Putin has risen from around 60 per cent to 70 per cent since the week before.

Russia also launched a recruitment drive for more mercenary soldiers in state media, with newspaper Novaya Gazeta running adverts offering soldiers-for-hire £1,760 a month in a drive for the ‘recruitment of people for protection in the near abroad’. 

Since Russian troops rolled into Ukraine last week to achieve Putin’s mission of overthrowing Zelensky’s pro-Western government, hundreds of civilians have been reported killed.

Russian forces have carried out a massive bombing campaign and encircled urban centres, but Ukraine insists no major city has yet been overtaken.

‘Russian airborne troops landed in Kharkiv… and attacked a local hospital,’ the Ukrainian army said in a statement on messaging app Telegram. ‘There is an ongoing fight between the invaders and the Ukrainians.’

Russia hit a residential building in the city on Tuesday killing eight people, drawing comparisons to the massacres of civilians in Sarajevo in the 1990s and condemnation for what Zelensky called a ‘war crime’.

A fire broke out on Wednesday in the barracks of a flight school in Kharkiv following an airstrike, according to Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Minister.

‘Practically there are no areas left in Kharkiv where an artillery shell has not yet hit,’ he was quoted as saying in a statement on Telegram. 

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