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By Jeremy Herb, CNN
Top US and NATO officials on Friday pushed back against calls for a no-fly zone to be set up in Ukraine, warning that it could lead to a “full-fledged war in Europe” and saying they’re doing what they can to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invasion.
In separate news conferences in Brussels Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg argued that a NATO no-fly zone simply wasn’t realistic because of the risk that it would lead to a direct conflict between Russia and NATO.
“The only way to actually implement something like a no-fly zone is to send NATO planes into Ukrainian airspace and to shoot down Russian planes, and that could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe. President Biden has been clear that we are not going to get into a war with Russia,” Blinken said during a news conference Friday in Brussels where he is meeting with European allies.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top Ukrainian officials have continued to urge the West to implement a no-fly zone to stop Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities, and they redoubled those calls on Friday after Russia’s attack on a nuclear power plant.
“Today I have sent a letter to the UNSC president reminding of the council’s decisions on no-fly zones during previous conflicts in order to prevent further civilian casualties,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya said at an emergency UN Security Council meeting convened Friday after Russian forces attacked the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.
“Urgent discussion on establishing a ban on all flights in air space of Ukraine should be a top priority for the security council,” he added.
At the same meeting, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the world “narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night.” She called Russia’s actions “reckless” and “dangerous,” saying the attack put the nuclear power plant at grave risk and threatened the safety of civilians in Russia and across Europe.
Biden met Friday in the Oval Office with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who thanked the US President for his leadership during the current “very difficult times.”
“We agree and it’s not only attack on Ukraine, it’s an attack on the security of Europe and global peace and stability,” Biden told reporters.
Days to come are ‘likely to be worse’
Stoltenberg warned Friday following a meeting of NATO ministers that the days to come in Ukraine are “likely to be worse” with “more deaths, more suffering and more destruction.” He called for dialogue with Russia and reiterated that NATO was not seeking a war with Russia, saying that a no-fly zone over Ukraine was not an option being considered by the alliance.
“We’ve agreed that we should not have NATO planes operating over Ukrainian airspace or NATO troops on Ukrainian territory,” Stoltenberg said. “Ministers agreed that NATO’s relationship with Russia has fundamentally changed for the long term. But we remain committed to keeping channels for diplomacy and deconfliction open to avoid any fundamental escalation, misunderstanding or miscalculation.”
Blinken said that the alliance is constantly looking at how it can provide Ukraine with the capabilities it needs to defend itself.
“We are looking every day at what technologies, what capacities we can effectively deliver to — to Ukraine to defend itself. And that’s an ongoing conversation, literally happening on a daily basis both with, with Ukraine and government officials, as well as among allies and partners. And so, the main focus is on making sure that anything we provide can be used, used effectively, and … in a timely way,” Blinken said.
NATO has deployed the alliance’s response force for the first time, bolstering the number of NATO troops deployed to its eastern flank that borders Ukraine. NATO and US officials have repeatedly said they will defend “every inch of NATO territory,” while pointing to the sanctions that US and European countries have implemented against Russia as a sign that the alliance is more united than ever.
Blinken touted the sanctions that have targeted Russia’s central bank and cut off Moscow from the SWIFT international payment messaging system, while noting that the sanctions have carved out Russian energy so that energy prices — and gas prices domestically — don’t spike.
“There’s no strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy. The immediate effect would be to raise prices at the pump for Americans and also to pad Russian profits with rising prices,” Blinken said, while adding that nothing is “off the table.”
“What’s happened in record time,” he added, “are sanctions and other measures that a few weeks ago, people would have said we’re never going to happen.”
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CNN’s Christian Sierra, Ellie Kaufman, Nikki Carvajal, Martin Goillandeau, Lindsay Isaac and Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.