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EU to send weapons to Ukraine, close airspace to Russian planes and sanction Belarus

The EU has also announced sanctions against the Belerusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, “the other agressor in this war”.

THE EU HAS taken the unprecedented step to fund arms supplies to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russia, as part of a new bout of sanctions taken in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement this afternoon

“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. This is a watershed moment.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs later clarified in a statement that Ireland will not contribute financially to weapons for Ukraine, but will contribute to the “non-lethal” part of the package.

In line with the commitment in the Programme for Government, Ireland will constructively abstain from the lethal equipment elements and will not contribute financially to this aspect.

“Instead, we will provide a corresponding contribution to the provision of non-lethal support. Our understanding is that a number of member states, including Austria and Malta, are likely to take the same approach.”

The EU will also close its airspace to Russian airlines, ban Russian-owned or Russian-controlled aircrafts and will ban Russian state-owned media Sputnik and Russia Today (RT).

“We are developing tools to ban their toxic and harmful disinformation in Europe,” von der Leyen said.

The EU is also announcing sanctions against Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, which von der Leyen called “the other aggressor in this war”.

Russian troops were stationed in Belarus before invading Ukraine’s northern border.

“We will introduce restrictive measures against their most important sectors,” von der Leyen said. “This will stop their exports of products 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. This will also avoid any risks of circumvention of our measures against Russia.

“In addition, we will sanction those Belarusians helping the Russian war effort,” von der Leyen said.

The measures come on top of sanctions von der Leyen announced a day earlier that are about to be implemented: cutting some Russian banks out of the SWIFT interbank messaging network, banning all transactions with Russia’s central bank, and added restrictions on Russian oligarchs.

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

Together, the steps added up to the toughest stance the European Union has taken against a country, reflecting the EU’s horror and anger at Putin’s assault on Ukraine, launched on Thursday.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in a tweet shortly before the announcement that the world “has been changed by this unjustified war on Ukraine”.

It’s people have shown such courage, in the face of great loss of life and destruction.

“Ireland’s humanitarian response will not be found wanting.

“The EU is unified and further sanctions will hit Russia hard.”

Von der Leyen has said this afternoon that the “leadership and his bravery” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the “resilience” of the Ukrainian people as they fight back are “outstanding and impressive” and “an inspiration to all of us”.

She also said that of the Ukrainian refugees arriving in EU countries: “I am proud of the warm welcome that Europe has given them.”

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who was to chair a virtual meeting of the EU’s foreign ministers just after the declarations, said: “I will today propose to use the European Peace Facility for emergency assistance measures to finance the supply of lethal material 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 engagement in order to support the Ukrainian army – because we live in unprecedented times”.

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Sweden, which is also a member of the EU, announced this afternoon that it would break its doctrine of not sending arms to countries in active conflict and send military equipment, including anti-tank launchers, to Ukraine.

The decision to send 135,000 field rations, 5,000 helmets, 5,000 pieces of body armour and 5,000 single use anti-tank launchers is the first time Sweden has sent weapons to a country in armed conflict since the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said.

Zelensky has said that Ukraine would hold talks with Russia at its border with Belarus – near the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but added that “I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try”.

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha.

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