EU eyes more sanctions on Russia, NATO fears Ukraine’s call for no-fly zone

The national flags of NATO members are seen, on the day of the foreign ministers meeting amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Hermann

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday said the bloc would step up sanctions against Russia but resisted Kyiv’s calls for military action that would draw the NATO military alliance into war.

In Brussels for talks with NATO and the European Union, the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said all options remained on the table regarding new sanctions against Russia for invading its neighbor Ukraine.

“We will look at everything,” Borrell told reporters in response to a question about the possible suspension of EU gas imports from Russia.

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Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the fourth round of sanctions could affect more Russian banks’ access to the international transfer system SWIFT, block Russian ships from European ports and cut imports from Russia.

“I also doubt that we will ban other imports such as steel, timber, aluminum and possibly coal as well,” he said.

However, it was not immediately clear when the 27-nation European Union would be able to agree on specific measures given member states’ divisions over dealing with Moscow and some countries’ heavy dependence on Russian energy supplies.

“Every day the West imports energy from Russia worth 700 million dollars,” Eurointelligence think tank said in a note.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on Western allies to impose a no-fly zone since the start of the invasion of Moscow nine days ago, with Russia bombing cities and bringing the fight to Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Western powers have already punished Russia, including by imposing restrictions on the activities of the Central Bank and confiscating the assets of the oligarch.

NATO members sent weapons to Ukraine, but they stopped the military action that would put them in direct conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Friday that the alliance would defend “every inch” of NATO territory from attack. Ukraine, a former Soviet republic and a subsidiary Moscow Channel that wants to join the European Union and the Western Military Club, is not currently a member of either.

“Our alliance is a defensive alliance. We do not seek conflict. But if conflict reaches us, we are ready for it,” Blinken said.

While some NATO countries have indicated their willingness to discuss a no-fly zone, they have made clear their reservations.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie said NATO should avoid provoking a wider conflict. The French presidential office described the request for a no-fly zone as “very difficult to meet”.

nuclear panic

Putin launched his “special military operation” to get rid of what he said was the fascist government of Ukraine and demilitarize the country. Zelensky says Moscow is trying to prevent liberal democracy from flourishing on Russia’s borders.

“The truth is that NATO does not threaten Putin but rather the desire for freedom in Ukraine. He wants to break this desire for freedom – in Ukraine, as well as in his own country,” said German Foreign Minister Annalina Bierbock.

In a sign of the rising dangers of war, a massive fire at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant was extinguished in Ukraine on Friday after fighting that caused global alarm. Officials said the Zaporizhia factory was operating normally after it was taken over by Russian forces.

Barbock said the nuclear infrastructure should stay out of war. She added that the 27-nation European Union would provide Ukraine with humanitarian aid and shelter its refugees, in addition to moving forward with more sanctions against Russia.

Zelensky said Thursday that if the allies did not meet his request to protect Ukrainian airspace, they should instead supply Kyiv with more warplanes.

“We have 15 nuclear units, so these two units in the east are close to the front line of the war. It’s not just a Ukrainian issue,” Energy Minister Herman Halushenko told Reuters. “We are fighting. We will fight to the end.”

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Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold, Bart Meijer, Francesco Guaracchio, Philip Blinkinsop, John Irish and Simon Lewis; writing by Gabriela Bachinska; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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