France joins score of European nations to close airspace to Russian aircraft


France on Sunday joined more than a dozen European countries to close its airspace to Russian aircraft.

The move will take effect from Sunday night, said French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

“To the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe responds with total unity,” he added.

Earlier, Germany and the Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland – said they would ban Russian aviation from their skies in protest over the invasion of Ukraine.

Jeppe Kofod, the Danish foreign affairs minister, said he wanted a EU-wide ban.

“Russia’s unprovoked, despicable attack on Ukraine must be met with strongest possible international sanctions and condemnation,” he added.

Belgium, the Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic had already taken the measure. On Saturday, Austrian Airlines said it was cancelling flights to Russia and avoiding Russian airspace for at least seven days. However, Swiss International Air Lines says it is maintaining flights for the moment.

After Britain banned Russian flights last week, Moscow retaliated with a similar restrictions on British planes.

The British carrier Virgin Atlantic said avoiding Russia would add between 15 minutes and an hour to its flights between the UK and India and Pakistan.

France’s move to lockdown its airspace came as the Russian president Vladimir Putin told his military commanders to put the country’s nuclear deterrence wing on a special mode of combat duty in response to what he called aggressive statements by Nato countries.

Putin’s order, which was announced by the state-run Tass news agency, came during a meeting with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces.

The United States described the new footing as an unacceptable escalation.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told CBS’s Face the Nation: “It means that President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable and we have to continue to stem his actions in the strongest possible way.”

On Thursday, Russian forces advanced into Ukraine and four days later, troops were on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv in the face of spirited resistance from Ukrainian fighters.

The Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday his compatriots would continue to repel the invaders and he called on volunteers from around the world to join Ukrainians in what he described as a fight to save Europe and European values.

Putin has warned foreign countries not to interfere in his military venture. He said it would lead to consequences they had never seen.

Anti-air missiles and other advanced missile systems have been deployed in Belarus and the navy has been sent to the Black Sea to prevent a western intervention in Ukraine.


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