NATO on Friday rejected pleas from Ukraine to impose a no-fly zone to stop Russian bombing, but Western allies warned President Vladimir Putin of new sanctions if he doesn’t end his war.
Foreign ministers held emergency meetings at NATO and the European Union in Brussels on the ninth day of Moscow’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor that has turned the world order upside down.
Ukraine’s leadership has made a desperate appeal to the West to help prevent Russian fighter jets from raining bombs on their lands as Moscow’s military surrounds key cities.
“Respond now before it’s too late. Don’t let Putin turn Ukraine into Syria,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted after making an impassioned plea for the alliance via a video link.
But NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would not intervene in the conflict over fears of a direct clash with Moscow that could culminate in nuclear war.
“The only way to introduce a no-fly zone is to send NATO warplanes into Ukraine’s airspace and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes,” Stoltenberg said after the urgent meeting. .
“If we do that, we will end up with something that could end up in a full-fledged war in Europe, involving many more countries and causing much more human suffering.”
NATO members have sent thousands of troops to Eastern Europe to bolster the alliance’s closest flank to Russia and are sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.
Kiev has said that if NATO is unwilling to close Ukraine’s airspace, its allies should equip it with combat aircraft and air defense systems to help stop Russian air strikes.
Western countries have so far said they will not provide aircraft and most arms deliveries have focused on light weapons and anti-tank and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
– ‘Further strict measures’ –
While NATO rejected calls for a no-fly zone, the West threatened new sanctions after hitting Russia with unprecedented penalties that have shaken its economy.
Kiev has demanded more sanctions after the shelling of a nuclear power plant by Russia’s invading forces.
“To be very clear, we are ready to take further stern measures if Putin does not stop and reverse the war he has unleashed,” said Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the allies must keep up the pressure on the Kremlin “until the war is over”.
He warned that if the West allows Russia to violate international principles “with impunity”, we will open a Pandora’s box in every corner of the world.
Some EU countries want the bloc to tighten its sanctions by taking more banks out of the global SWIFT interbank messaging system and targeting Russia’s main oil and gas exports.
But there is reluctance from major economic powers like Germany to cut off a supplier responsible for 40 percent of the bloc’s gas and 10 percent of its oil.
But “everything remains on the table,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief.
“Today we see the ugly face of war erupting again on our borders and the Russians are bombing and shelling everything.”
Irish Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney said the EU was already preparing a new round of sanctions against Moscow and could be agreed upon soon.
“We are not signing a new package of sanctions today, but that is clearly underway,” he said.
“I suspect we’ll agree early next week.”