U.S. Patriot missile batteries from the 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment stand ready at sunset in Poland on April 10, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Smith)

PARIS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenkyy’s call for NATO nations to shoot down Russian missiles over Ukraine from their own airspace is likely to find some support in at least a few friendly European capitals, including from a key Finnish lawmaker who told Breaking Defense he liked the idea.

In an interview with The New York Times, published today, an animated Zelenksyy asked “what’s the problem” with NATO nations aiding Ukraine’s air defense from within their own borders or airspace.

“Why can’t we shoot them down? Is it defense? Yes. Is it an attack on Russia? No,” he said. “Are you shooting down Russian planes and killing Russian pilots? No. So what’s the issue with involving NATO countries in the war? There is no such issue.”

“Shoot down what’s in the sky over Ukraine,” he added. “And give us the weapons to use against Russian forces on the borders.”

The idea that other countries’ air defenses could reach into Ukraine to protect cities and facilities, especially near Ukraine’s border, has been percolating for a few weeks. In late March Poland’s foreign minister said NATO was discussing shooting down missiles that strayed too close to NATO nations. A German news outlet reported on May 11 that lawmakers in Berlin had discussed using NATO capabilities to protect western Ukraine.

In mid-May the chair of the Finnish parliament’s defense committee, Jukka Kopra, told Breaking Defense it’s an intriguing option.

“I would embrace the idea taking more charge of Ukrainian air defense, as someone in Germany has proposed,” he said in an email on May 14. “This could be arranged so that [for example] NATO countries would in cooperation take charge of air defense in certain areas to protect the legal Ukrainian airspace. The systems could be based in NATO area, as the range of them would reach to the Ukrainian airspace.”

Discussion of direct NATO-nation involvement in air defense follows talk of the potential for some nations to send troops to Ukraine in rear support positions or to train Ukrainian troops in-country. Earlier this month the national security advisor to Estonia’s president told Breaking Defense Tallinn was “seriously” discussing the possibility. He later downplayed the remarks, and Estonia’s defense minister said those discussions hadn’t gone anywhere.

But then this week the small nation’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, suggested to the Financial Times that the argument against sending in trainers was hollow.

“I can’t possibly imagine that if somebody is hurt there, then those who have sent their people will say ‘It’s Article 5. Let’s … bomb Russia.’ It is not how it works,” she said. “It’s not automatic. So these fears are not well-founded.”

“If you send your people to help Ukrainians … you know the country is in war and you go to a risk zone. So you take the risk,” she added.

Last week the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. CQ Brown, suggested that the entry of NATO trainers into Ukraine was inevitable. “We’ll get there eventually, over time,” he told The New York Times. The US has adamantly said it would not send American troops into Ukraine.

In his email to Breaking Defense, Kopra, the Finnish lawmaker, said the idea of sending in troops sounded “interesting but complicated” compared to the air defense option.

Similarly, the chief of defense policy in Finland’s Ministry of Defense, Janne Kuusela, said there’s “no big appetite” for putting Finnish boots on the ground in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy did not appear to be holding his breath. The Times reported he welcomed the idea of foreign support troops. But, he said, “I don’t see it, except in words.”