West News Wire: NATO turned down Ukrainian requests for assistance in defending its airspace from Russian missiles and airplanes on Friday, fearful of being dragged into Moscow’s war on its neighbor, but Europe pledged further sanctions to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, slammed the decision, claiming that the alliance had granted Russia permission to continue bombing.

He had previously urged NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, which Russia had invaded by land, sea, and air on February 24.

In declining Ukraine’s request, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared, “We are not involved of this fight.”

“We have a responsibility as NATO allies to prevent this war from escalating beyond Ukraine because that would be even more dangerous, more devastating and would cause even more human suffering,” he said following a NATO meeting in Brussels.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, wants to join the European Union and NATO, moves which Moscow says threaten its security and influence.

“Today there was a NATO summit, a weak summit, a confused summit, a summit where it was clear that not everyone considers the battle for Europe’s freedom to be the number one goal,” Zelenskiy said a televised address late on Friday.

“Today, the leadership of the alliance gave the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities and villages, having refused to set up a no-fly zone.”

While the West condemned Putin, members of the 30-strong NATO are bound to defend each other in case of attack and wary of sinking into a war with nuclear-armed Russia. The EU threatened more sanctions but it was not clear what it could do.

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the alliance would defend “every inch” of NATO territory and that Moscow should not doubt Washington’s resolve.

“Ours is a defensive alliance. We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us, we are ready,” he said.

“We’ll continue to raise the cost for President Putin. Unless the Kremlin changes course, it will continue down the road of increasing isolation and economic pain.”

But the alliance in which the United States, Britain and France are also nuclear powers dashed Ukraine’s hopes of immediate help Kyiv says could turn the tables in the war.

“We should not have NATO planes operating over Ukrainian airspace or NATO troops operating in Ukrainian territory,” Stoltenberg said.

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