BRUSSELS – NATO officials, determined to show a united front of support for Ukraine, on Friday accused Russia of using cluster bombs in its invasion, but rejected Kiev’s plea to impose a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace , fearing that this would draw the military alliance into a bigger war with Russia.
Dozens of protesters waving Ukrainian flags chanted “NATO, act now!” outside the alliance headquarters, while foreign ministers met in a special session aimed at helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s growing invasion. Ministers also met in sessions organized by the European Union and the Group of 7.
At NATO headquarters, ministers heard a call from Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, asking for more military aid than NATO was prepared to give so far.
“Help us,” Mr Kuleba pleaded in a video that… posted on Twitter† “If you don’t, I’m afraid you will have to share responsibility for the lives and suffering of Ukrainian civilians, who are killed by ruthless Russian pilots dropping bombs on them.”
Shortly afterwards, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that Russia had attacked Ukraine with anti-personnel cluster bombs, which kill so indiscriminately that they are banned under international law.
But he rejected Mr Kuleba’s plea for a no-fly zone. “Allies agree that we should not have NATO aircraft over Ukrainian airspace or NATO troops on Ukrainian soil,” he said.
Cluster bombs can be dropped from aircraft or launched from missiles. Enforcing a no-fly zone usually requires fighter jets to patrol the airspace, with troops underneath to identify and report violations.
The day of meetings of NATO, EU and G7 foreign ministers was announced as a demonstration of Western unity in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine. Even Liz Truss, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, put Brexit aside to preach “complete unity” at the EU meeting, which US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also attended.
“We are faced together with what President Putin’s war of choice is – unprovoked, unjustified,” Mr. Shine to journalists prior to the meeting. “We are determined to do everything we can to make it stop. Mutual coordination is therefore essential.”
The crisis has reminded Europeans how much they depend on the United States for leadership and military strength, as well as on the nuclear umbrella that serves as the main element of deterrence against countries like Russia, China or even Iran.
And if, at the beginning of the crisis, the European Union, under the French Presidency, was annoyed by America’s leading role, President Biden and Mr Blinken made every effort to inform and consult both the Brussels institutions and the Member States .
But as the crisis unfolded, Washington provided convincing information to its allies and organized the response. It put the European Union, Britain, Canada and Australia on a heavy package of economic sanctions and quickly began supplying Ukraine with weapons and moving troops and equipment to bolster Allied forces along NATO’s eastern flank.
“While our focus must remain on Ukraine’s sovereignty and restoring Ukrainian security, I believe Putin’s war will also advance America’s position in the world,” wrote Kori Schake, a former US defense official. “Indeed, it has already cemented America’s position at the center of the international order it created from the ashes of World War II.”
Other countries also played a key role: France volunteered to lead a new NATO battalion in Romania, and Germany shut down Nord Stream 2, Russia’s gas pipeline to Western Europe, and allowed arms exports to Ukraine. . The European Union also proceeded to “Europeanize” the efforts of many of its 27 member states – 21 of which belong to NATO – and pledged for the first time to reimburse them for weapons sent to Ukraine.
Whether more weapons should have been sent to Ukraine in the long lead-up to the war remains an open question, but NATO officials feared that an overt display of weapons would provoke rather than deter Russia.
With weapons and supplies coming to western Ukraine from Poland and other neighboring countries, there are concerns that Russia will block or bomb convoys and that there could be accidental clashes with NATO planes.
Mr Blinken’s visit was, in large part, to keep the European Union in sync with the Western thump of economic sanctions – with possibly more in the offing – to punish the government of President Vladimir V. Putin and his allies.
He also called on allies to send more humanitarian aid to aid workers in Ukraine and neighboring countries, including Poland and Moldova, where he will hold rallies on Saturday. More than a million refugees have fled Ukraine in the past week, and at least 100,000 more who are in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes during the fighting.
Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said Russia has bombed and shelled homes, schools and hospitals.
“This is a barbaric way of waging war,” Borrell said.
Mr Stoltenberg said that in addition to cluster bombs, Russia has also used other prohibited weapons in Ukraine.
“We have seen the use of cluster bombs and we have seen reports of the use of other types of weapons that would violate international law,” he said. He did not specify any other type of weapon.
Anti-personnel cluster munitions are rockets, rockets, artillery shells and bombs that deploy a large number of small explosives over a large area, intended to attack infantry formations. The Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty banning such weapons, entered into force in August 2010.
NATO forces used cluster bombs during the Kosovo war in 1999, and the United States dropped more than 1,000 cluster bombs in Afghanistan from October 2001 to March 2002, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.