EU closes airspace to Russia, bans state media

The EU on Sunday announced sweeping new sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, closing its airspace to Russian planes and banning Russian state media from broadcasting in the bloc.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, announcing the measures, also said the European Union was taking the unprecedented step of funding arms to Ukraine and hitting Russian ally Belarus with sanctions for facilitating the ‘invasion.

These measures are in addition to the sanctions announced a day earlier by von der Leyen and which are about to be implemented: excluding certain Russian banks from the SWIFT interbank messaging network, prohibiting all transactions with the central bank of Russia and add restrictions on Russian oligarchs.

The EU also sanctioned Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Together, these measures constituted the toughest stance the European Union has taken against any country, reflecting the bloc’s horror and anger at Putin’s assault on Ukraine, launched on Thursday.

“While the war in Ukraine rages on and Ukrainians bravely fight for their country, the European Union once again strengthens its support for Ukraine and the sanctions against the aggressor Putin’s Russia,” von der Leyen said in a broadcast speech.

She said the airspace ban would ban flights to or over the EU by “all Russian aircraft and that includes the private jets of the oligarchs.”

Ruling against Russian state media targeted its Russia Today outlets known as RT and Sputnik, and their subsidiaries. She said they “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and sow division in our Union.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said alongside him that the measure involved “banning Russia Today and Sputnik from broadcasting in the European Union”.

Von der Leyen said the sanctions against Belarus were aimed at “the other aggressor in this war”, naming the regime of strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

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

“We will introduce restrictive measures against their most important sectors. This will stop their exports of products ranging from mineral fuels to tobacco, wood and timber, cement, iron and steel.

“We will also extend to Belarus the export restrictions we introduced on dual-use goods for Russia.”

Belarusians helping the Russian military operation would also be punished, she said.

Von der Leyen said the decision to finance the purchase and delivery of arms to Ukraine was “a watershed moment for our Union”.

Borrell, who was due to chair a virtual meeting of EU foreign ministers just after the statements, said: “I will be proposing today to use the European Peace Facility for emergency aid measures to to finance the supply of lethal equipment to the Ukrainian army, as well as badly needed fuel, protective equipment and medical supplies.”

He said “we are doing this because this war requires our commitment in order to support the Ukrainian army because we live in unprecedented times.”

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