Opinion: United States and NATO’s Options to Help Ukraine


In the weeks since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, the United States, along with the rest of its allies, has scrambled to put economic sanctions on Russia and send assistance to the Ukrainian Army. Ukraine has successfully defended much of the nation from the Russian attack, defying expectations that the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, would fall quickly. 

Unfortunately, Russia still occupies a significant amount of territory in Ukraine and has engaged in a brutal siege of Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city. Civilian deaths are estimated in the thousands, according to the United Nations. It is clear that more should be done by the rest of the world to quickly end the war. While Ukraine can possibly emerge victorious, it needs additional assistance to prevent a bloody, potentially months-long stalemate. 

Many options remain open to the United States, some of which are extremely dangerous, while others don’t take the risk of the war spreading outside Ukraine. Below are five potential options to give Ukraine the push it needs to rapid victory. 

No-Fly Zone

In this scenario, the United States, along with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance comprising most of Europe plus the United States and Canada, would deploy fighter jets to prevent Russia from engaging in air combat over Ukraine. This would end airstrikes and bombings by Russia, saving civilians from attacks on residential areas, hospitals and other civilian infrastrucure.  

Unfortunately, this option also requires that NATO enforce its order. If Russian jets refuse to leave Ukrainian airspace, NATO would need to shoot them down, which many experts say could lead to World War III. 

This option is extremely risky, and very likely to cause a direct war between the United States and Russia. Nonetheless, it would most likely mean a rapid Ukrainian victory on the ground, since Russia could no longer provide air support. In addition, a recent poll found 74% of Americans supported this option, though experts noted that some didn’t understand the risks of an expanded war. Nonetheless, 35% still supported this action even considering a “risk of nuclear conflict with Russia.”

Peacekeeping Mission in West Ukraine

Western Ukraine, often considered to be culturally centered in the city of Lviv, has seen far less fighting during this conflict. A few airstrikes on military targets have caused minor disruption, but civilian casualties have been little to none in the region. However, there are concerns that if Kyiv falls, the government of Ukraine will relocate to Lviv, motivating Russia to invade the nation’s west. 

Poland and Denmark have proposed a mission to enter Western Ukraine, bringing humanitarian supplies, but also armed forces for combat if Russia attempts to stop the delivery of supplies. Poland’s proposal goes even further, essentially suggesting military operations to assist all of Ukraine, but the overall suggestion is to send peacekeepers to engage Russian troops in the event of a full-scale attack on Ukraine’s west. 

Unlike the no-fly zone, this option does not necessarily directly result in combat with Russia. However, it does still greatly increase that possibility. Russia may claim that this is an attack by NATO, once again resulting in war. However, if Poland or other NATO nations are operating outside NATO territory and are attacked, this still does not necessarily mean war. In Syria, Russian mercenaries attacked American soldiers in 2018 without serious, widespread escalation. Unlike the no-fly zone, this would be a small-scale deployment and any combat could likely be contained. 


This strategy, modeled after the United States’ Berlin Airlift of 1948-49, would involve the use of American and NATO aircraft in purely peaceful operations. In this scenario, NATO planes would bring thousands of tons of food, water and medical supplies, along with other necessities, into cities facing Russian attack or encirclement. After quickly unloading, planes would return to staging areas, probably in nearby Poland, and more planes would arrive, forming a stable supply system.

This isn’t necessarily safe, though. Russia still could attack purely peaceful and humanitarian planes, likely triggering a war. Once again, direct assistance runs the risk of war with Russia– there is no avoiding this possibility. 

Blockade of Kaliningrad

The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad (map), separated from Russia’s mainland by Lithuania, is an area of about just 400,000 people, but of great strategic significance. Giving Russia and its troops a direct border to Poland and Lithuania, Russia has positioned many weapons there, including Nuclear warheads. 

Russian statements have repeatedly accused NATO of trying to cut off this area from the rest of Russia, but so far no concrete actions have been taken. However, actually blockading Kaliningrad is an option that’s been part of NATO strategies since the start of the Cold War, so plans probably already exist for this scenario. 

This would require closing international airspace, land borders, and placing ships along the coast. This would cut off Kaliningrad, giving NATO leverage to potentially broker peace. Unfortunately, much like the no-fly zone, Russia could again use this to justify World War III.

US-Negotiated Peace

The most realistic option to boost Ukraine, as Russian losses mount (likely over ten thousand Russians have already died as of March 22nd), is to persuade Russia to accept peace. 

One potential scenario for a peace treaty would be the formal transfer of the island of Crimea (Russian-controlled since 2014) to Russia, in addition to a relatively small part of Eastern Ukraine called “Donetsk and Luhansk”, which has also been largely under Russian occupation for years. This would allow Russia to save face by neither losing or gaining any territory, while Ukraine would essentially win militarily. 

In exchange for this, the United States and other NATO countries could lift all sanctions on Russia, allowing their reconnection to the global economy. 

While there’s little downside to this option, it certainly appears Putin has little interest in it and more interest in provoking NATO to the more terrifying scenarios above. 


No matter what choice Putin and NATO make, one thing is certain– a brutal war is going to continue in Ukraine until a deal is met or the war is won. The United States must, at the very least, do something to help Ukraine’s civilians and refugees as this situation plays out