EU closes airspace to Russian airlines and will buy arms from Ukraine

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BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Sunday agreed to close its airspace to Russian airlines, spend hundreds of millions of euros buying weapons for Ukraine and ban some pro-Kremlin media from its latest response to the Russian invasion, EU officials said.

That and Germany’s announcement earlier today that it would nearly triple its defense budget this year underscored how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was rewriting Russia’s security and defense policy. Europe after the Second World War in a way that was unthinkable only a few weeks ago.

In what he described as “a defining moment in European history”, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers had given the green light to the unprecedented support for Ukraine and that these actions would take effect within hours.

“We have decided to use our capabilities to provide lethal weapons, lethal assistance to the Ukrainian army worth 450 million (euro) (502 million dollars)…and 50 million more (56 million dollars) for non-lethal supplies, fuel, protective gear,” Borrell told reporters.

Borrell said EU defense ministers will discuss on Monday how to convert the funds into useful military equipment and ensure they reach Ukraine’s armed forces. He said Poland had agreed to act as a hub for distributing weapons and equipment.

EU ministers also agreed to add several other individuals and organizations to a growing list of sanctions. These included Russian oligarchs whose money, Borrell said, is important to the Russian economy, as well as other key officials, including those spreading misinformation. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have already had their assets in Europe frozen.

In a separate announcement, the German leader said the country would commit 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to a special fund for the armed forces and keep defense spending above the NATO target. 2% of GDP.

Meanwhile, anti-war protesters have taken to the streets of Berlin, Rome, Prague, Istanbul and elsewhere – even Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg and in a dozen Belarusian towns – to demand an end to the war. , the largest ground offensive on the continent since World War II.

According to rights group OVD-Info, Russian police arrested at least 2,063 Russians in 48 cities for anti-war protests on Sunday alone. Human rights defenders have reported that more than 170 people have been arrested during the Belarusian protests. In Minsk, a large pile of flowers kept growing in front of the Ukrainian embassy.

Tens of thousands of people gathered outside Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Sunday, some holding up posters with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine”, “Tanks at windmills” and “Putin, go away”. therapy and leave Ukraine and the world in peace”.

The EU arms finance plan would help buy air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and other military equipment from the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It would also provide fuel, protective gear, helmets and first aid kits.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that beyond arms purchases, EU countries would close European airspace to Russians.

“We are proposing a ban on all Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Russian-controlled aircraft. These aircraft will no longer be able to land, take off or fly over EU territory,” she said.

She said the EU would also ban “the Kremlin’s media machine.” State corporations Russia Today and Sputnik, and their affiliates, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and sow division in our union.

Von der Leyen added that the EU will also target Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for his support of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

“We will hit the Lukashenko regime with a new sanctions package,” she said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement of new defense funding is extremely important for Germany, which has been criticized by the United States and other NATO allies for failing to invest adequate in its defense budget.

“It is clear that we must invest much more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy,” Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag in Berlin.

Scholz said the 100 billion euro ($113 billion) fund was currently a one-off measure for 2022. Still, Scholz indicated that Germany will exceed the 2% of GDP threshold in the future, signaling a overall future increase in defense spending.

A day earlier, Germany announced another major policy change, saying it would send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine, including 500 Stinger missiles, which are used to shoot down helicopters and planes. fighters, and 1,000 anti-tank weapons.

Israel announced that it was sending 100 tons of humanitarian aid – medical equipment and medicine, tents, sleeping bags and blankets – to help civilians in Ukraine. Israel also offered itself as a potential mediator in a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Putin, the Kremlin and Israel said. Bennett also spoke Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish.

As Greece sent more military aid, Turkish officials called the Russian invasion a ‘war’, a categorization that could lead Ankara to close the Turkish Strait to Russian warships, something Ukraine has demanded more early this week. The 1936 Montreux Convention gives Turkey the right to ban “belligerent states” from using the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus in times of war, but provides an exception for Black Sea vessels to return to port.

On the sanctions front, Japan has joined the United States and European countries in removing major Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial banking system. Japan will also freeze the assets of Putin and other senior Russian officials, while sending $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has told reporters.

Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders, meanwhile, on Sunday prayed for peace, expressed solidarity with Ukrainians and denounced the Russian invasion.

At the Vatican, Ukrainian flags waved in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis delivered his weekly Sunday blessing and called for global solidarity for “the suffering Ukrainian people”.

“Those who wage war forget humanity,” Francis said. He refrained from quoting Russia by name, out of apparent deference to his hopes of maintaining an open dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church.

Also on Sunday, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople described the Russian invasion as “beyond all sense of law and morals” and pleaded for an end to the war.

Patriarch Bartholomew is considered the spiritual leader and first among equals of Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world. He granted independence from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which in 2019 separated it from the Russian Church to which it had been linked since 1686. The Russian Orthodox Church consequently severed its relations with him.

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Schultheis contributed from Vienna, Austria. Nicole Winfield in Rome, Josef Federman in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed.

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Follow all AP stories about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine.

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