European Union Closes Its Airspace To Russian Airlines

The European Union, a 27-nation bloc, will close its airspace to Russian airlines, finance arms supplies to Ukraine and ban some pro-Kremlin media outlets in response to Russia’s invasion.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday that “for the first time, the European Union will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack.”

Von der Leyen added that “we are closing the EU airspace for the Russians. We propose a ban on all Russian-owned, Russian-registered, or Russian-controlled aircraft. These planes will no longer be able to land, take off or fly over EU territory.”

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He also said that the EU will ban “the Kremlin media machine. The state-owned companies Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, 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 sanction Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for supporting Russia’s widespread military campaign in Ukraine.

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

For its part, Germany announced on Sunday that it would allocate 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to a special fund for the armed forces and keep its defense spending above 2% of GDP from now on. This was one of the most significant changes in European security policy in decades, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement — which came hours after Germany announced it would send arms and other supplies directly to Ukraine — underscored how Russia’s war in Ukraine was rewriting post-World War II European security policy.

Meanwhile, Israel has offered to mediate to help negotiate an end to the fighting, as it enjoys good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, and protesters have taken to the streets of European capitals to demand an end to the war, the largest ground offensive on the continent since World War II.

In Berlin, thousands of people gathered outside the Brandenburg Gate to protest the invasion, some waving yellow and blue Ukrainian flags to show their support. Others carried banners with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine” and “Putin, go to therapy and leave Ukraine and the world alone.”

At the Vatican, Ukrainian flags flew in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis gave his weekly prayer.

The German policy change came as Italy, Austria and Belgium joined other European countries in closing their airspace to Russian planes, and Israel announced it would send 100 tons of humanitarian aid to help civilians in Ukraine.

Israel also offered to mediate during a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin and Israel said. A senior Israeli official — speaking on condition of anonymity because the diplomatic matter is confidential — said Bennett told Putin that Israel was ready to help as much as needed. Moscow has not responded if they will accept.

On the European front, the European Union’s foreign and interior ministers held emergency talks on Sunday to respond to the crisis and what to do about the influx of refugees from Ukraine.

The UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, said that as of Sunday more than 365,000 people had fled the country and estimated that 4 million could flee if the fighting spreads.

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