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Trudeau defends NATO rejection of Ukraine’s no-fly-zone request

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WATCH: Trudeau to meet with European allies to discuss further response to Russia-Ukraine conflict – Mar 4, 2022

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is defending NATO’s decision to reject establishing a no-fly-zone over Ukraine, warning the move would lead to an “unfortunate” escalation in the conflict.

He made the comment during a press conference on Friday, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy enters the ninth day of his call for NATO to impose and enforce a ban on Russian jets flying in Ukrainian skies.

“The thing that we have so far avoided — and will continue to need to avoid — is (creating) a situation in which NATO forces are in direct conflict with Russian soldiers,” Trudeau said.

“That would be a level of escalation that is unfortunate that we need to avoid.”

Read more: What is a no-fly zone? Here’s why the West isn’t imposing one in Ukraine

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Canada “will continue to impose punishing consequences on Putin,” until both he and the Russian people “understand just how terrible a mistake Vladimir Putin has just made,” Trudeau said.

Implementing a no-fly zone over the country isn’t as simple as telling Russia it’s no longer allowed in the airspace — it also requires enforcement.

That means if NATO were to put a ban on Russian planes in Ukrainian skies, they’d be forced to send in NATO jets to shoot down any Russian aircraft in that airspace.

“We understand the desperation but we also believe that if we did that, we would end up with something that could lead to a full-fledged war in Europe involving much more countries and much more suffering,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in a Friday news conference.

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: Stoltenberg explains why NATO won’t enforce no-fly zone' Russia-Ukraine conflict: Stoltenberg explains why NATO won’t enforce no-fly zone
Russia-Ukraine conflict: Stoltenberg explains why NATO won’t enforce no-fly zone – Mar 4, 2022

While NATO has enforced no-fly zones in previous conflicts, including in Iraq, Libya and Bosnia, there’s a major difference when it comes to what’s happening in Ukraine: Russia has nuclear weapons.

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That hasn’t deterred Zelenskyy, who made yet another impassioned plea for NATO to implement a no-fly zone on Thursday.

“Tell us, how many people must be blown up? How many legs, arms, heads must be torn off and fly away to finally reach you to make you introduce a no-fly zone? How many? Tell me the number,” he reportedly told CBS news, according to their translation of an interview shared on Twitter.

“I will go myself and we will count and wait until the time comes.”

Click to play video: 'Protest outside U.S. consulate in Toronto over no-fly-zone decision' Protest outside U.S. consulate in Toronto over no-fly-zone decision
Protest outside U.S. consulate in Toronto over no-fly-zone decision – Mar 4, 2022

Military experts, meanwhile, are urging decision-makers to be cautious and measured as they debate when — and if — the time for a no-fly zone will come.

NATO aircraft shot down four Bosnian-Serb aircraft that violated the no-fly zone in 1994. But if that happened with a Russian aircraft now, the risks could be catastrophic, according to Dani Belo, a PhD candidate and fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Patterson School of International Affairs.

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“Keeping that conflict short of a nuclear confrontation would be very difficult,” he said.

“The key difference is the nuclear aspect of all of this.”

Read more: Russia’s capture of Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Ukraine raises global alarm

Despite the concerns, a prominent Ukrainian organization in Canada says the conflict warrants this risky intervention — and they say NATO is wrong to refuse it.

“This refusal to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukrainian territory evidences a profound misunderstanding of the gravity of the situation in which the world finds itself after Russia began its all-out assault on Ukraine,” said Alexandra Chyczij, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in a statement on Friday.

“By failing to react swiftly, and projecting weakness, the world is emboldening Putin to proceed with his plans of annihilating Ukraine and its people.”

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Russia-Ukraine conflict: Drone video shows destruction in town near Kyiv following airstrikes – Mar 4, 2022

Russian forces captured Europe’s largest nuclear power plant Friday, in an attack that officials said started at least one fire. While radiation levels at the plant remained consistent amid the heavy shelling and fighting, the blaze heightened fears of what’s to come as the conflict enters its second week.

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“This wanton recklessness could soon lead to catastrophic consequences for the entire world,” Chyczij warned.

To date, thousands of people are believed to have been killed or wounded in the conflict and more than 1.2 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Feb. 24.

Russia calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory, but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

Read more: Ethnic Russians in Latvia divided on war in Ukraine: ‘There is a big division’

On Thursday, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators agreed at talks on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape and to deliver medicines and food to areas engulfed in fighting — but the conflict itself is showing no signs of slowing.

According to Chyczij, the outcome of the war will be felt around the world.

“If Putin wins in Ukraine, the rest of Europe and the world will be threatened and menaced by his regime. Russia is indiscriminately bombing and shelling Ukrainian civilians, purposely murdering innocent people. Russia has resorted to shelling nuclear power plants, terrorizing the world with unimaginable destruction,” Chyczij said.

“These are the actions of a depraved and evil regime that must be stopped. Ukraine and 40 million Ukrainians are fighting to stop it. Help them.”

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— with files from Global News’ Amanda Connolly, Aaron D’Andrea

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