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Western Military Support For Ukraine Will Continue, Blinken Says As NATO Rejects No-Fly Zone

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service March 04, 2022

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has defended the West's focus on sanctions and providing weapons to Ukraine as effective ways to stop Russia's invasion of the country.

Blinken was speaking in Brussels after NATO rejected Ukraine's calls to implement a no-fly zone over the country aimed at shutting the airspace to Russian jets, bombers, and helicopters and stopping their attacks.

The United States and NATO have said implementing a no-fly zone could put the alliance into a direct confrontation with Russia and that could lead to a full-fledged war.

Blinken said more military support and more sanctions, as well as increased humanitarian aid for Ukrainians, were the focus of his talks at the NATO and European Union headquarters.

"We are going to tremendous lengths with allies and partners to provide Ukrainians with the means to effectively defend themselves," he said.

The supply of weaponry that the United States and European countries have sent has helped the Ukrainian military stall some of the Russian advance, he said.

Economic sanctions implemented thus far are only beginning to have a punishing impact, but have already hurt the Russian economy, causing the ruble to drop to unprecedented lows and forcing Russia to close its stock exchange over fears of a vast sell-off.

But he admitted that the impact of the sanctions can't provide immediate relief to millions of Ukrainians. "Unfortunately, this is not like flipping a light switch," Blinken said.

Earlier on March 4, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance's members agreed that its planes should not fly in Ukraine's airspace and that its troops should not be present on the ground in Ukraine during its conflict with Russia.

After meeting with foreign ministers from NATO members, Stoltenberg again called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop his unprovoked war against Ukraine "immediately, and without conditions."

Stoltenberg admitted that Russia was likely to intensify its attack on Ukraine, which began on February 24, with the coming days "likely to be worse."

Blinken later echoed that comment, saying, "The terrible expectation is that the suffering we've already seen is likely to get worse before it gets better."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy strongly criticized NATO's decision, saying the alliance had given Russia the green light to continue its bombing campaign.

"Today there was a NATO summit, a weak summit, a confused summit, a summit where it was clear that not everyone considers the battle for Europe's freedom to be the No. 1 goal," Zelenskiy said in a televised address.

Ukraine's stated goal to join NATO and the European Union is strongly opposed by Moscow, which says Ukraine's membership in the organizations would threaten its security.
Diplomatic language and financial and other sanctions have hardened amid mounting civilian and other casualties and huge refugee flows from Putin's invasion.

Multiple NATO members have said they are united against Russian aggression but expressed unwillingness to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, whose officials have pleaded for the move to allow them to counter more numerous Russian forces.

Ukraine neighbors NATO members Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.

Zelenskiy adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak told reporters in Kyiv that Russia was "fighting with a deliberate violation of all conventions, laws, and rules of war" and clearly "could not help knowing what threatens Ukraine and, frankly, the whole of Europe, with a large-scale tank attack directed against the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant."

On March 4, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte repeated that a no-fly zone could put NATO forces in direct conflict with Russia's military.

"I believe that all encouragements for NATO to get involved into the military conflict now are irresponsible," said Simonyte, whose country shares a nearly 300-kilometer border with Russia and has consistently warned of Moscow's increasingly bold challenges toward the international community.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on March 4 that NATO would discuss "all scenarios" to stop the war. But she added that the alliance wants to "avoid triggering an international conflict."

Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said that "we need to rethink everything" in light of the current conflict. He said NATO should reconsider its posture on its eastern flank, where Romania has a 600-kilometer-plus border with Russia.

Aurescu said countries need to adapt to Belarus "becoming a military district of Russia."

Thousands of Russian troops staged offensives from southern Belarus, which is only about 150 kilometers from the Ukrainian capital.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has kept a tight lid on Belarus for nearly three decades and relies more heavily on Moscow's support since a flawed election two years ago, repeated his claims on March 4 that Belarus's military was not participating in Russia's military operations in Ukraine.

Lukashenka said he had spoken with Putin earlier in the day.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock declared solidarity with the Ukrainian people and said Putin's war "is also bringing ruin upon his own country."

Baerbock vowed at the NATO meeting that Europe would "take further measures that specifically target Putin's center of power."

With reporting by Reuters, FT, Mike Eckel, and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine- russia-no-fly-zone-kuleba/31735568.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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