Feb. 27 (UPI) — The European Union and a growing roster of other nations on Sunday announced they will shut down their air space to Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.
The 27-member bloc also said it would conduct its first-ever purchase and delivery of weapons to a nation under attack.
EU President Ursula von der Leyen announced the ban in a statement Sunday and officials from Canada, Sweden, Denmark Belgium, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria and Iceland also announced the closures of their airspace to Moscow.
Von der Leyen declared it a “watershed moment” as she issued a prohibition on all Russian-owned, Russian-registered or Ruassian-controlled aircraft, as she condemned the “vicious attack” by Russia against its neighbor.
“These aircraft will no more be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the EU. This will apply to any plane owned, chartered or otherwise controlled by a Russian legal or natural person,” she said. “So let me be very clear. Our airspace will be closed to every Russian plane — and that includes the private jets of oligarchs.”
Britain, Poland, Romania, Finland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia previously took similar steps.
In another “unprecedented step” von der Leyen said the bloc would also ban the “Kremlin’s media machine” including state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik as well as their subsidiaries in EU territories.
She said the 27-member bloc was developing tools to “ban their toxic and harmful disinformation” in Europe in order to ensure that they will “no longer be able to spread their lies to justify [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] war and to saw division in our Union.”
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, explained to reporters during a press conference that they must stay vigilant to Putin’s disinformation campaign as it was now shifting to “full-fledged war propaganda.”
He said they will be supporting independent media in both Ukraine and Russia and they will be monitoring propaganda disseminated in nearby nations out of concern that Putin may have larger military ambitions.
“We are worried for what might happen in the whole region,” he said. “We are afraid that Russia will not stop in Ukraine.”
The EU also extended sanctions to Belarus, saying President Alexander Lukashenko and his regime are “complicit” in the violence against Ukraine.
“We will target the other aggressor in this war — Lukashenko’s regime,” said von der Leyen.
Under the sanctions, the bloc will restrict Belarus’ “most important sectors,” stopping exports of products such as mineral fuels, tobacco, wood, timber, cement, iron and steel as well as extending restrictions on dual-use goods previously imposed on Russia.
It will also sanction Belarusians helping the Russian war effort.
These sanctions come along with previously announced penalties against Russia, excluding its banks from the SWIFT international payment network and banning the transactions of Russia’s central bank while freezing all of its assets and targeting the assets of Russian oligarchs.
SWIFT, which was founded in 1973, is now used by more than 11,000 financial institutions to send secure messages and payment orders.
More than half of the central bank reserves of Russia will be blocked under EU sanctions, Borrell announced on Sunday.
On Saturday, the United States, European Commission, France, Germany, Italy, Britain and Canada, announced that they would expel certain Russian banks from SWIFT.
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Sunday also announced it will exclude Russian banks from SWIFT, and freeze financial assets and other key Russian government officials, broadcaster NHK reported.
Von der Leyen extended support to Ukraine in Sunday’s statement, saying the EU will “for the first time ever” finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country under attack and is “mobilizing every effort and every Euro” to host and take care of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.
Borrell detailed that the EU will provide it with $558 million in arms, including fighter jets, through the European Peace Facility.
“We are not talking just about ammunition,” he said. “We are providing the most important arms to go to war.”
The money consists of $501 million for lethal weapons assistance with the remaining $57 million for non-lethal supplies, such as fuel and protective equipment.
“We want to keep peace in Europe, but we have to be prepared to defend this peace,” he said. “What is happening in Ukraine will be an awakening moment for the people who believe that, only united, Europeans will be able to face the challenges of the future.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday announced the nation will provide an additional $53 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine to “aid agencies respond to the deteriorating humanitarian situation, creating a lifeline for Ukrainians with access to basic necessities and medical supplies such as medicines, syringes, dressings and wound care packs,” his office said in a statement.
“The UK will not turn our backs in Ukraine’s hour of need,” Boris said. “We are providing all the economic and military support we can to help those Ukrainians risking everything to protect their country.”
The British government has now given Ukraine more than $187 million this year and has offered up to $668 million in loans to Kyiv through the Multilateral Development Banks.