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EU shuts airspace to Russian airlines, will buy Ukraine arms

European Commission President von der Leyen also declares that news outlets Sputnik and Russia Today ‘will no longer be able to spread their lies’ in the EU

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, on February 27, 2022. (Stephanie Lecocq/Pool Photo via AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, on February 27, 2022. (Stephanie Lecocq/Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s chief executive says the 27-nation bloc will close its airspace to Russian airlines, fund supplies of weapons to Ukraine and ban some pro-Kremlin media outlets in response to Russia’s invasion.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday that “for the first time ever, 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 shutting down the EU airspace for Russians. We are proposing a prohibition on all Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft. These aircraft will no more be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the EU.”

She said also the EU will ban “the Kremlin’s media machine. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union.”

Von der Leyen added that the EU will also target Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for supporting Russia’s widespread military campaign in Ukraine.

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

Demonstrators gather in protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Marseille, southern France, on February 26, 2022. (Daniel Cole/AP)

Anti-war protesters took to the streets in Berlin, Rome, Prague, Istanbul and other cities — even Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg — to demand an end to the war, the largest ground offensive on the continent since WWII.

Tens of thousands of people massed Sunday in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, with some carrying posters with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine,” “Tanks to Windmills” and “Putin, go to therapy and leave Ukraine and the world in peace.”

Germany announced on that Sunday it was committing 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to a special armed forces fund and would keep its defense spending above 2% of GDP from now on, a move brought on by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement of new defense funding is significant for Germany, which has come under criticism from the United States and other NATO allies for not investing adequately in its defense budget. NATO member states committed to spending 2% of their GDP on defense, but Germany has consistently spent much less.

“It’s clear we need to invest significantly 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 fund was currently a one-time measure for 2022. It wasn’t immediately clear whether similar funding would be allocated in future years. But Scholz indicated Germany will exceed the 2% of GDP threshold going forward, signaling an overall future increase in defense spending.

Demonstrators hold a placard reading ‘Choke Putin’ in front of the Chancellery in Berlin as they protest, on February 24, 2022, against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (John Macdougall/AFP)

To bolster its military training and support missions around the world, the 27-nation EU has set up a European Peace Facility, a fund with a ceiling of around 5.7 billion euros ($6.4 billion). Some of the money can be used to train and equip partner countries, including with lethal weapons.

On the sanctions front, Japan joined the US and European nations in cutting key Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial banking system. Japan will also freeze assets of Putin and other top Russian officials, while sending $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.

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

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