Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Western powers against imposing a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, saying any such attempt by another country would be seen as a step into the military conflict between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
“Any movement in this direction will be considered by us as participation in an armed conflict by that country,” Putin said during a meeting with Aeroflot employees outside of Moscow on Saturday.
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He added that imposing a no-fly zone would have “colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the absence of a no-fly zone gives Russia the “green light” to continue bombing Ukrainian cities and towns. He has lashed out at NATO for refusing to impose a no-fly zone over his country, warning that “all the people who die from this day forward will also die because of you”.
NATO has said a no-fly zone, which would bar all unauthorised aircraft from flying over Ukraine, could provoke widespread war in Europe with nuclear-armed Russia.
But as the United States and other NATO members send weapons to Kyiv and more than 1.2 million refugees spill through the continent, the conflict is already drawing in countries far beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Putin reiterated his aims in Ukraine are to defend Russian-speaking communities through the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of the country so that it becomes neutral.
Ukraine and Western countries have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for the invasion he launched on February 24 and have imposed a sweeping range of sanctions aimed at isolating Moscow.
“These sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war but thank God it has not come to that,” Putin said, speaking to a group of women flight attendants at the Aeroflot training centre.
The president also said there were no conscripts involved in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation”, which he said was being carried out only by professional soldiers.
“There is not one conscript and we don’t plan for there to be,” Putin said. “Our army will fulfil all the tasks. I don’t doubt that at all. Everything is going to plan.”
Putin also dismissed rumours that some sort of martial law or emergency situation could be declared in Russia.
“Martial law should only be introduced in cases where there is external aggression … we are not experiencing that at the moment and I hope we won’t,” Putin said.