NATO wary as Ukraine calls for no-fly zone to hinder Russia

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BRUSSELS, March 4 (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said NATO would defend “every inch” of members’ territory but emphasized the alliance was defensive, as foreign ministers resisted Ukrainian calls for a no-fly zone to battle the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for a no-fly zone since Moscow’s invasion started on Feb. 24, with Russia shelling cities and bringing fighting to Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and members of the alliance, whose foreign ministers met in Brussels on Friday, are wary of being drawn into the war with nuclear-armed Russia.

“NATO will defend all its allies and territory against a Russian attack,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on arriving in Brussels, which hosts the alliance’s headquarters.

“Ours is a defensive alliance. We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us, we are ready for it and we will defend every inch of NATO territory.”

NATO’s head echoed Blinken’s condemnation of Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic and Moscow satellite that wants to join the European Union as well as the Western military alliance.

Ukrainian authorities said on Friday Russian forces seized the largest nuclear power plant in Europe after a building at the Zaporizhzhia complex was set ablaze during intense fighting.

“This just demonstrates the recklessness of this war and the importance of ending it and the importance of Russia withdrawing all its troops,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

While some countries indicated a willingness to discuss a no-fly zone, they made clear they did not consider it a viable option.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said that NATO’s red line was to avoid triggering a wider conflict. France’s presidential office described a no-fly zone as “a very legitimate request and very difficult to satisfy.”

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said calls to get NATO involved into military conflict now were “irresponsible.”

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

“We are now witnessing a fully-fledged war at our borders, a war unleashed by president Putin against Ukraine,” the EU’s top diplomat said ahead of the bloc’s separate talks on Friday.

“We will consider everything. Everything remains on the table,” Josep Borrell said of more sanctions on Russia.

NUCLEAR SCARE

On Thursday, Zelenskiy said that if allies wouldn’t meet his request to protect Ukrainian air space, they should instead provide Kyiv with more war planes.

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

Russia’s land assault on the capital Kyiv has moved slowly but Russian forces have shelled residential blocks and key civilian infrastructure, including in Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv in the northeast.

The Azov Sea port of Mariupol has been encircled and left without electricity or running water by heavy Russian bombing.

Spooked by the invasion, eastern members of the 30-nation NATO are ramping up defence spending and seeking more protection.

“Russian troops are in Ukraine and in Belarus, so we need to rethink everything,” said Romania’s Foreign Minister Bogdan, adding his country would increase its defence spending to 2.5% of GDP next year.

Poland announced plans to go up to 3%. Last week Germany also responded to the war with a commitment to increase military spending. In a departure from its long-declared policy, Berlin also authorised arms supplies to Ukraine.

Photo – A Royal Danish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter and NATO flag during NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states enhancement ceremony at the Sauliai Air Base, Lithuania. EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA

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