Russia warns Ukraine neighbors against hosting Kiev’s military planes

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Russia warns Ukraine’s neighbors against hosting Kiev’s military aircraft, saying this could amount to their involvement in the conflict between Russia and the ex-Soviet republic.

“We know for sure that Ukrainian combat aircraft have flown to Romania and other neighboring countries,” defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a video briefing on Sunday.

“The use of the airfield network of these countries for basing Ukrainian military aviation with the subsequent use of force against Russia’s army can be regarded as the involvement of these states in an armed conflict,” he added.

The warning came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his country was in talks with Poland to orchestrate a deal that would allow Polish fighter jets to be flown by pilots from the Ukrainian air force.

“That gets the green light. In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians. What can we do?” Blinken said on CBS.

“How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they’re handing over to the Ukrainians?” he asked.

The deal would see Ukraine take Poland’s 28 Russian-made MiG-29 warplanes, which would, in turn, be replaced by F-16 fighter jets provided by the United States.

On February 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine. In 2014, the two regions declared themselves new republics, refusing to recognize Ukraine’s Western-backed government.

Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”

Russian forces have made progress in southern Ukraine since the beginning of the operation, overrunning the city of Kherson and besieging the port of Mariupol, but Odessa, another port city, has so far been largely spared.

Konashenkov also said that “practically all” Ukraine’s combat-ready aircraft had been destroyed.

Also on Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated his plea from the Western military alliance of NATO to set up a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine.

“We repeat every day: ‘close the sky over Ukraine!’ Close for all Russian missiles, Russian combat aircraft…,” he said.

The alliance has declined the request for apparent fears of being dragged into a war with Russia as enforcement of a no-fly zone would involve shooting down Russian aircraft.

Putin has warned that Moscow would consider any country imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to have entered into the military conflict.

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