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Coming days 'likely to be worse' -- NATO chief

Putin warns neighbors ‘not to escalate’ Ukraine crisis; NATO rules out no-fly zone

Kremlin says ‘now is not the time’ for Russian leader to meet Zelensky; Ukrainian FM accuses Moscow’s forces of rape, urges West to ‘act now before it’s too late’

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a flag-raising ceremony via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, on March 4, 2022. (Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a flag-raising ceremony via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, on March 4, 2022. (Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday urged Russia’s neighbors “not to escalate” the crisis in Ukraine, more than one week after Moscow invaded the country.

“There are no bad intentions towards our neighbors. And I would also advise them not to escalate the situation, not to introduce any restrictions. We fulfill all our obligations and will continue to fulfill them,” Putin said in televised remarks, according to Reuters.

“We do not see any need here to aggravate or worsen our relations. And all our actions, if they arise, they always arise exclusively in response to some unfriendly actions, actions against the Russian Federation,” he added.

Separately, the Kremlin urged Russians to rally around Putin.

“Now is not the time to be divided,” the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters, responding to a question on pleas from public figures to end the war.

“Now is the time to unite, to unite around our president.”

A man walks in front of a residential building damaged in yesterday’s shelling in the city of Chernihiv, on March 4, 2022. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP)

Since Russia sent ground troops into Ukraine last week following a plea from separatist leaders, Russian public figures have been divided on the operation.

“Yes, indeed, there are heated debates among cultural figures,” Peskov said.

“Many support the president, sincerely the president. There are those who completely misunderstand the essence of what is happening,” he added.

A number of prominent Russians are echoing a chorus of global celebrities condemning Moscow’s war on Ukraine, with some already beginning to suffer the consequences for defying the Kremlin line.

Other Russian celebrities are signaling their support. The Munich Philharmonic fired conductor and Kremlin loyalist Valery Gergiev on Tuesday after he failed to denounce Moscow’s invasion.

The Kremlin’s spokesman said Putin had no immediate plans to speak with US President Joe Biden about the conflict, and said any contact between Russian and Ukraine officials should be through conflict negotiators, not leaders.

“Now is not the time,” he said in response to a question about a possible meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference in Kyiv, on March 3, 2022. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the military organization will not police a no-fly zone over Ukraine, warning that such a move could end in a widespread war in Europe.

Speaking after chairing a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Stoltenberg said “we are not going to move into Ukraine, neither on the ground, nor in the Ukrainian airspace.”

Putin’s forces have ramped up their attacks in Ukraine, launching hundreds of missiles and artillery strikes on cities and making significant gains in the south.

Zelensky has appealed to the West to enforce a no-fly zone over his country, most recently after a fire overnight at one of Ukraine’s nuclear plants, the largest in Europe.

“The only way to implement a no-fly zone is to send NATO fighter planes into Ukrainian airspace, and then impose that no-fly zone by shooting down Russian planes,” Stoltenberg said. “We understand the desperation, but we also believe that if we did that, we would end up with something that could end in a full-fledged war in Europe.”

“We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine,” he said.

Stoltenberg warned that “the days to come are likely to be worse, with more death, more suffering, and more destruction as Russian armed forces bring in heavier weaponry and continue their attacks across the country.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media prior to the start of a foreign ministers’ meeting following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, on March 4, 2022. (Oliver Doulirey/Pool/AFP)

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba addressed the alliance via videolink from Kyiv.

He tweeted afterward: “My message: act now before it’s too late. Don’t let [Russian President Vladimir] Putin turn Ukraine into Syria. We are ready to fight. We will continue fighting. But we need partners to help us with concrete, resolute and swift actions, now.”

NATO members have rushed thousands of troops to eastern Europe to bolster the alliance’s flank closest to Russia and are sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

“We will continue to do what it takes to protect and defend every inch of NATO territory. NATO is a defensive alliance. Our core task is to keep our 30 nations safe,” Stoltenberg said.

“We are not part of this conflict and we have a responsibility to ensure it does not escalate and spread beyond Ukraine.”

Kyiv has said that if NATO is not willing to shut Ukrainian airspace then the allies should supply warplanes and air defense systems to help stop Russian air attacks.

European nations have so far said they will not deliver planes and most arms deliveries have focused on light weapons, and anti-tank and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Also Friday, Kuleba accused Russian troops of raping women and backed a call for the creation of a special tribunal to punish Moscow’s aggression.

“We have numerous cases of, unfortunately, when Russian soldiers rape women in the Ukrainian cities,” Kuleba told a briefing at London’s Chatham House think-tank.

He did not provide details, but supported an appeal by former British prime minister Gordon Brown and a swathe of international law experts for a special tribunal.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks in Copenhagen, Denmark, on January 27, 2022. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP)

International law “is the only tool of civilization that is available to us to make sure that in the end, eventually, all those who made this war possible will be brought to justice,” Kuleba said, as civilian casualties mount in Ukraine.

“We are fighting against the enemy who is much stronger than us,” he said.

“But the international law is on our side, and hopefully… it will make its own contribution to help us prevail.”

Dignitaries including Brown, former judges, and law experts on Wednesday called for the creation of a special tribunal, as the International Criminal Court studies whether to prosecute alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

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