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Day by day, Europeans pile consequences on Russia for invading Ukraine

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Russian ruble plummeted today. It's at a record low, so low its value is said to be less than a penny. The drop is in response to Russia being cut off from the global bank payment system in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine. And that's not the only consequence. The EU has imposed a blanket ban on Russian planes, and it's, for the first time, sending lethal weapons to Ukraine's military, ending a long-standing policy of not providing weapons to conflict regions. NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us from Berlin to walk us through all of this. Rob, let's start with the moves from the EU. Lay out exactly what - the actions it took.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Yeah. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a raft of new punitive measures. First off, as you mentioned, the EU has asked all its 27 members to close their airspace to Russian-owned, registered or controlled aircraft. This morning, departure boards at Moscow's airports showed dozens of canceled flights to cities across Europe. But that's just the start. Von der Leyen also announced the EU will, for the first time, finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country under attack. This is a landmark move. These shipments, which will include fighter jets, will commence immediately to Ukraine's military. Josep Borrell, the EU's foreign policy chief, had this to say about the bloc's about-face on this issue.

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JOSEP BORRELL: Another taboo has fallen, the taboo that the European Union was not providing arms in a war. Yes, we are doing because this war requires our engagement in order to support the Ukrainian army.

SCHMITZ: And, A, the EU also banned the Russian state-backed media outlets RT, Sputnik and their subsidiaries to ban what von der Leyen called their toxic and harmful disinformation. And finally, the EU plans to hit the regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus with sweeping new sanctions in return for allowing Putin to use his country as a staging site for the Russian invasion.

MARTINEZ: So some history from the EU - also in Germany, too. They've made a historic shift in their security policy. They announced a new massive investment into its own military. Tell us all about that.

SCHMITZ: Yeah, the Germany that's waking up today is not the same Germany as last week. Yesterday, in a speech to the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, Olaf Scholz did away with years of Merkel-era foreign security policy and announced the country would set up a special fund of a hundred billion euros to fund Germany's armed forces and, from now on, would spend at least 2% of its GDP on its military. When Scholz announced this, the Bundestag erupted in applause. This was a shocking about-face for a country that has, for years, been stubbornly reluctant to invest in its own military. Last year, Germany spent only 1.4% of its GDP on its defense. So this new commitment is a game changer for Europe and its security. Scholz defended the move by saying this.

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CHANCELLOR OLAF SCHOLZ: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: And, A, he's saying here that Putin wants to reestablish a Russian empire and fundamentally reorder Europe according to his own ideas by using military force. And that forces the question, what capabilities do we have to counter that threat? So this is a turning point in German history, and it was met with a gush of support from throughout Europe. In fact, right after Scholz announced this, more than a hundred thousand people poured into central Berlin in front the Brandenburg Gate to show their support for Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: That's Rob Schmitz joining us from Berlin. Rob, thanks.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.