BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed Sunday to close its airspace to Russian airlines, spend hundreds of millions of euros on buying weapons for Ukraine and ban some pro-Kremlin media outlets in its latest response to Russia’s invasion, EU officials said.
That and Germany’s announcement earlier in the day that it would almost triple its defense budget this year underscored how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was rewriting Europe’s post-World War II security and defense policy in ways that were unthinkable only a few weeks ago.
In what he described as “a defining moment for European history,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers had greenlighted the unprecedented support for Ukraine and that those actions would take effect within hours.
“We have decided to use our capacities to provide lethal arms, lethal assistance, to the Ukrainian army by a value of 450 million (euros) ($502 million) … and 50 more million ($56 million) for non-lethal supplies, fuel, protective equipment,” Borrell told reporters.
Borrell said EU defense ministers will discuss Monday how to convert the funds into useful military materiel and ensure that it reaches the Ukrainian armed forces. He said Poland has agreed to act as a hub to distribute the arms and equipment.
The EU ministers also agreed to add several more people and organizations to a growing list of sanctions. Those included Russian oligarchs whose money, Borrell said, is important for the Russian economy, as well as other key officials, notably those spreading disinformation. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have already seen their assets in Europe frozen.
In a separate announcement, Germany’s leader said the country would commit 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to a special armed forces fund and keep its defense spending above NATO’s target of 2% of GDP.
Anti-war protesters, meanwhile, took to the streets in Berlin, Rome, Prague, Istanbul and elsewhere — even Russian cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg and in a dozen Belarusian cities — to demand an end to the war, the largest ground offensive on the continent since WWII.
According to the OVD-Info rights group, Russian police detained at least 2,063 Russians in 48 cities over anti-war demonstrations on Sunday alone.Human rights advocates reported that more than 170 people had been arrested in the Belarusian protests. In Minsk, a large pile of flowers kept growing in front of Ukraine’s embassy.
Tens of thousands of people massed Sunday in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, with some carrying posters with slogans such as “Hands off Ukraine,” “Tanks to Windmills” and “Putin, go to therapy and leave Ukraine and the world in peace.”
The EU’s plan to fund weapons would help to buy air defense systems, anti-tank weapons, ammunition and other military equipment to Ukraine’s armed forces. It would also supply things like fuel, protective gear, helmets and first aid kits.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said beyond the weapons purchases, EU nations would shut down European airspace for Russians.
“We are proposing a prohibition on all Russian-owned, Russian registered or Russian-controlled aircraft. These aircraft will no more be able to land in, take off or overfly the territory of the EU,” she said.
She said the EU will also ban “the Kremlin’s media machine. The state-owned Russia Today and Sputnik, as well as their subsidiaries, will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify Putin’s war and to sow division in our union.”
Von der Leyen added that the EU will also target Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko for supporting Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
“We will hit Lukashenko’s regime with a new package of sanctions,” she said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s announcement of new defense funding is hugely significant for Germany, which has come under criticism from the United States and other NATO allies for not investing adequately in its defense budget.
“It’s clear we need to invest significantly more in the security of our country, in order to protect our freedom and our democracy,” Scholz told a special session of the Bundestag in Berlin.
Scholz said the 100 billion euro fund ($113 billion) was currently a one-time measure for 2022. Still, Scholz indicated Germany will exceed the 2% of GDP threshold going forward, signaling an overall future increase in defense spending.
A day earlier, Germany announced another major policy shift, saying it will send weapons and other supplies directly to Ukraine, including 500 Stinger missiles, which are used to shoot down helicopters and warplanes, and 1,000 anti-tank weapons.
Israel announced it was sending 100 tons of humanitarian aid — medical equipment and medicine, tents, sleeping bags and blankets — to help civilians in Ukraine. Israel also offered itself as a potential mediator during a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Putin, the Kremlin and Israel said. Bennett spoke also Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish.
As Greece sent more military aid, Turkish officials termed Russia’s invasion a “war,” a categorization that could lead Ankara to close down the Turkish straits to Russian warships, which Ukraine requested earlier this week. The 1936 Montreux Convention gives Turkey the right to bar “belligerent states” from using the Dardanelles and the Bosporus during wartime but provides an exception for Black Sea vessels to return to port.
On the sanctions front, Japan joined the United States and European nations in cutting key Russian banks from the SWIFT international financial banking system. Japan will also freeze assets of Putin and other top Russian officials, while sending $100 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders, meanwhile, prayed Sunday for peace, voiced solidarity with Ukrainians and denounced the Russian invasion.
At the Vatican, Ukrainian flags fluttered in St. Peter’s Square as Pope Francis delivered his weekly Sunday blessing and appealed for global solidarity for “the suffering people of Ukraine.”
“Those who make war forget humanity,” Francis said. He refrained from citing Russia by name, in apparent deference to his hopes of keeping dialogue open with the Russian Orthodox Church.
Also Sunday, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople described Russia’s invasion as “beyond every sense of law and morality” and pleaded for an end to the war.
Patriarch Bartholomew is considered the spiritual leader and first among equals of Eastern Orthodox Christians worldwide. He granted the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which severed it in 2019 from the Russian church to which it had been tied since 1686. The Russian Orthodox Church severed relations with him as result.
Schultheis contributed from Vienna, Austria. Nicole Winfield in Rome, Josef Federman in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed.