European Council President Charles Michel said on Thursday that enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine is a NATO decision, but that it would be “one step too far” with a “real risk of escalation and a real risk of a possible third international war.”
“The EU is not at war with Russia. The reality is that Russia has launched a savage war against Ukraine. Ukraine is not a NATO member, and that’s why we must be extremely careful and cautious. We need to do everything which is possible, but taking into account that Russia has nuclear weapons, and it is very important to avoid a third international war,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson.
Michel said that while this was a decision for NATO to make and not the EU, it is important for NATO members to understand that it would be “one step too far."
“That’s why we are trying to advocate in different fields at the diplomatic level. We are trying to provide more support to Ukraine in order to have a ceasefire as soon as possible, and in order to make sure that we’ll be able to negotiate as soon as possible,” he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been calling for NATO and Western allies to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine amid Russia’s ongoing invasion and aerial bombardment of its cities. So far, that request has not been met.
Michel said that although NATO is a “backbone for common security in Europe," European countries need to take on more responsibilities to be able to provide more capabilities on their own in the military field.
Zelensky has also put in an official request to join the European Union. The EU parliament has since adopted a resolution on Tuesday calling on the European Union institutions "to work towards granting" Ukraine the status of EU candidate country.
The European Council president told Anderson that Zelensky’s request was “very legitimate” and that the EU would work to asses the request as fast as possible, “in order to remain extremely united in this field," alluding to some differing views among member states.
He said in the meantime and short term, he has decided to invite Zelensky to the European Council meetings on a “regular basis” to “cooperate and coordinate politically with Ukraine”.
Michel also stressed that the West’s strength is in its unity.
“Mr. Putin has tried to divide the EU and the United States. He failed. Mr. Putin has also tried to demonstrate that we are not able to act. He failed. We were able to take extremely important decisions that target directly the economic sectors in Russia. This is extremely painful, and I feel that Mr. Putin is really surprised by our ability to act and be extremely united and firm,” he said.
In response to whether Western unity is in fact changing Putin’s calculus on the ground, Michel told Anderson that it gives the impression to Russia’s leader that this will not be a battle between Russia against NATO and the EU, because there is very broad support from the international community against Moscow’s actions.
“We are not certain it will work, but we are certain that we must try and we must use the tools we have in our possession," Michel said.