In an unprecedented move, EU leaders agreed to fund 450 million euros in weapons for Ukraine as they imposed tough new sanctions on Russia on Sunday.
The decision is part of a series of new sanctions that include closing all EU airspace to Russian aircraft and banning Russian state media RT and Sputnik.
The ban on Russian-registered planes includes private jets used by oligarchs. Malta had said earlier on Sunday that it was closing its airspace to Russian aircraft, effectively denying access to the central Mediterranean region.
Speaking alongside EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that Russia Today and Sputnik “will no longer be able to spread their lies to justify the war of Putin and sow division in our union”. The bloc was taking the unprecedented step of funding 450 million euros worth of arms to Ukraine and introducing restrictions on exports from Russian ally Belarus.
Maltese Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo said after the virtual meeting of EU foreign ministers that as a neutral country, Malta will not be involved in the supply of armaments but will supply Ukraine medical supplies.
“We have agreed on financial sanctions against the oligarchs, friends of President Putin and on the fact that certain Russian banks will be denied access to the Swift system,” Bartolo said, adding that the discussions focused on the how to help Ukraine as it suffered the consequences of the “fierce war”. triggered by the Russian army.
Thousands of Ukrainians have fled to the western borders to cross into Poland and Moldova.
The EU’s move to step up sanctions comes as Russian forces continue their push towards the capital Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities.
Ukrainian forces managed to regain control of the second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Sunday after street fighting with Russian troops.
Also on Sunday, Ukraine announced it would hold talks with Russia on its border with Belarus after a phone call between President Volodymyr Zelensky and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
“Politicians have agreed that the Ukrainian delegation will meet the Russian delegation without preconditions at the Ukrainian-Belarusian border near the Pripyat River,” Zelensky’s office said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces to go on high alert on Sunday, citing “aggressive statements” from NATO powers and tough financial sanctions.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced at a special session of the Bundestag on Sunday that Germany would increase defense spending by 100 billion euros, fulfilling the 2006 pledge made by NATO allies to spend 2 % of GDP to continental security. Germany has also agreed to supply arms to Ukraine.