NATO and its foreign ministers rejected Kyiv’s idea of setting up a no-fly zone over Ukraine in spite of warnings from the alliance’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, that the war is about to become more vicious and bloodier.
At a press conference Friday afternoon at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mr. Stoltenberg said that more civilian casualties were inevitable as Russia moved in heavy weapons to bombard cities.
He said: ““This is the worst military aggression in Europe for decades, with cities under siege, schools, hospitals and residential buildings shelled, reckless actions around a nuclear power plant last night and many civilians killed or wounded. The days to come are likely to be worse, with more deaths, more suffering and more destruction.”
He said Russia’s violent takeover of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, shows that “war is dangerous and to have military operations, conflict fighting, going around the nuclear power plant adds to the danger.”
Earlier, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said that the Zaporizhzhia and the Chernobyl nuclear plants were now under Russian control, and that the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia site had killed and injured several people. It ignited a fire that has now been extinguished.
Ukrainian authorities said that, so far, radiation levels remain normal at the plant. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, on the sidelines of the foreign ministers meeting, said that the attack on the plant was “a threat to European security and stability and we need those responsible to be held to account.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be dispirited by NATO’s apparently inflexible decision that NATO will not endorse a no-fly zone. Various foreign ministers at the meeting said they fear that a no-fly zone would constitute a NATO declaration of war on Russia, potentially broadening the conflict to Eastern European countries.
“NATO shouldn’t be dragged into this conflict,” said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky. “No-fly zone means NATO being in conflict since it will be NATO forces enforcing this no-fly zone.”
Ahead of the press conference, the U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said that, although NATO was a defensive alliance, it was prepared to take offensive action if necessary. “We seek no conflict,” he said. “But if conflict comes to us, we are ready for it, and we will defend every inch of NATO territory.”
Mr. Stoltenberg did not directly answer a reporter’s question as to whether NATO or its member countries would be willing to deliver aircraft, such as ground attack planes, to Ukraine’s military. He said that NATO has helped to train Ukraine troops since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, and that several NATO countries, including Canada and Britain, are sending anti-tank weapons and missiles to the Ukrainian military.
Mr. Stoltenberg said that NATO will consider “longer term changes” to its presence on NATO’s eastern flank, suggesting that the alliance could expand that presence beyond the quick-response units already in place.
He gave no details and said that topic would be discussed at a March 16 NATO defence ministers’ meeting.
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