Nato rejects Zelensky’s plea for no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it doesn’t want to escalate conflict
In a bitter and emotional speech, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticised Nato for refusing to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, saying it will fully untie Russia's hands as it escalates its attack from the air.
"All the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you, because of your weakness, because of your lack of unity," he said in a night-time address.
"The alliance has given the green light to the bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages by refusing to create a no-fly zone."
Nato refused to impose a no-fly zone, warning that to do so could provoke widespread war in Europe with nuclear-armed Russia.
"All that the alliance was able to do today was to pass through its procurement system 50 tons of diesel fuel for Ukraine. Perhaps so we could burn the Budapest Memorandum," Mr Zelensky said, referring to the 1994 security guarantees given to Ukraine in exchange for the withdrawal of its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.
"You will not be able to pay us off with litres of fuel for the litres of our blood, shed for our common Europe."
The US said the world had dodged a catastrophe, and the UK warned that “radioactive clouds” could spread over Europe if the West does not act following Russia’s unprecedented assault on a nuclear power plant.
The attack on Europe’s largest nuclear facility was condemned by Western leaders and raises the prospect of widening the war in Ukraine. No army has previously attacked an active nuclear facility.
The US ambassador to the UN told an emergency Security Council meeting that the “world had narrowly avoided a nuclear catastrophe” and warned that Russian troops were now advancing on Ukraine’s second largest nuclear plant.
Nine days into the invasion, Russian troops intensified the bombardment of key cities yesterday, killing at least 47 civilians in Chernihiv, 140km north of Kyiv, while continuing to lay siege to residential areas in Mariupol, Kharkiv and Borodyanka.
Russia also claimed it had retaken Hostomel airport, a strategic target outside Kyiv, although a British intelligence report suggested there was “renewed fighting” around the airfield. The report said the 60km-long Russian armoured convoy which had reached the area had made little obvious progress.
British prime minister Boris Johnson, in a phone call with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky, said Vladimir Putin’s “reckless actions... could now directly threaten the safety of all of Europe”.
Mr Johnson said later the UN’s atomic watchdog should be deployed on the ground to ensure Ukraine’s nuclear plants remained safe, even if they fell into Russian hands.
“I think that the answers are very difficult. We have to make clear to the Kremlin that a civilian nuclear disaster in Ukraine, another Chernobyl, is a disaster for Russia as well as for everybody.”
He added: “We remember what happened with Chernobyl, the radioactive clouds spread over the whole continent... I am concerned about how we stop a disaster: there are other Ukrainian plants and there are certainly other Ukrainian radioactive nuclear waste sites. One of the things we need to consider is how we’re going to work together to prevent such a disaster.”
Russian forces captured Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after targeting it with missiles and gunfire that set part of the complex ablaze and, according to Ukraine’s defence minister, threatened a nuclear catastrophe “10 times worse than Chernobyl”.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken, prior to a meeting in Brussels, said: “Nato will defend all its allies and territory against a Russian attack. Ours is a defensive alliance. We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us, we are ready for it and we will defend every inch of Nato territory.”
Mr Johnson was woken in the night by Mr Zelensky, who told him the nuclear power plant on the Dnieper river was under attack. Mr Zelensky said he thought the plant had been captured by “Chechen guerrillas and that they would do something very irresponsible,” Mr Johnson said.
In a speech from a bunker in Kyiv, Mr Zelensky said yesterday: “We survived a night that could have stopped the story, the history of Ukraine, the history of Europe.
“Radiation doesn’t know where Russia is. Radiation doesn’t know where the borders of your country are.”
The Pentagon said it would be for Nato to determine whether nuclear fallout from an explosion drifting into alliance member states would constitute an attack. Under Article Five of the Nato treaty, an armed attack against a member state constitutes an assault on all of Nato, triggering a war.
The Zaporizhzhia plant, with six nuclear reactors providing up to a quarter of Ukraine’s electricity, was seized in the early hours yesterday after several hours of fighting.
A training centre just 150 metres from the reactors was set ablaze either by a Russian shell or gunfire.
Officials on both sides said there was no radioactive leak as a consequence.
Ukraine had been urging the UN’s atomic energy watchdog to implement a safe perimeter around Zaporizhzhia and three other nuclear power stations in the country. But Western allies have refused to implement a no-fly zone which would bring Nato into direct conflict with Russia.
Nato signalled a change in policy from “deterrence” to defence last night after Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, said more troops were likely to be sent to Baltic States.
But Nato allies meeting in Brussels rejected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s demand for no-fly zones.
“We are not part of this conflict,” Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“We have a responsibility as Nato allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering.”
US secretary of state Antony Blinken also rejected a no-fly zone, saying the only way to implement one over Ukraine would be for Nato forces to shoot down Russian planes.
Amid evident fears that a wider world war might be triggered accidentally, the Pentagon yesterday confirmed it had established a new hotline with Russia’s ministry of defence to prevent “miscalculation, military incidents and escalation” in the region.
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said: “When we tested it they picked up and acknowledged they got the call. So we know it works. We think it’s valuable to have direct communication at an operational level to reduce risks of miscalculation and communicate in real time if need be.”
World leaders condemned the attack on the power plant at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said: “By the grace of God, the world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night. We all waited to exhale as we watched the horrific situation unfold in real time.”
She called on the Russian president to “stop this madness, and stop it now”.
Russian forces, she added, “are now 20 miles, and closing, from Ukraine’s second largest nuclear facility. So this imminent danger continues”.
The US embassy in Kyiv said on Twitter that the attack on Zaporizhzhia was a “war crime”, but US embassies across Europe were told not to retweet the message for fear of escalating the conflict.
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, accused Ukraine of setting fire to its own nuclear facility as soldiers retreated, while, on a phone call with German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Mr Putin said “the alleged ongoing airstrikes of Kyiv and other large cities are gross propaganda fakes”.
Meanwhile, the BBC temporarily suspended its journalists’ work in Russia, in response to a new law which threatens to jail anyone deemed to have spread “fake news” about the country’s military.
Additional reporting from PA
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