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Politics

Ukraine Crisis: Biden Announces Sanctions against Russian Oligarchs, Banks

February 22, 2022

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced the U.S. was ordering heavy financial sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs on Tuesday, declaring that Moscow had flagrantly violated international law by invading Ukraine.

“None of us will be fooled” by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claims about Ukraine, the U.S. President said. And he said more sanctions could be on the way if Putin proceeds further.

Biden said he was also moving additional U.S. troops to the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia.

Biden joined the 27 European Union members who unanimously agreed on Tuesday to levy their own initial set of sanctions targeting Russian officials over their actions in Ukraine.

President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry said that it has decided to evacuate Russian diplomatic personnel from Ukraine, pointing at threats.

The ministry said Tuesday that Russian diplomats in Ukraine have received multiple threats, adding that they will be evacuated “in the nearest time.” It did not elaborate.

The move follows Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s rebel regions and the Russian parliament’s vote to grant President Vladimir Putin a permission to use military force in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is only a three hour drive from the border of Belarus, where Russia has stationed troops for earlier war games.

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BRUSSELS — French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says the European Union’s 27 members have unanimously agreed on an initial set of sanctions targeting Russian officials involved in Ukraine.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Tuesday this first package of sanctions “will hurt Russia and it will hurt a lot.”

He said the sanctions would affect members of Russia’s duma who voted against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine as well as another 27 people and “entities” which are often companies, banks or agencies.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said sanctions will directly target individuals and companies, as well as banks financing “the Russian military apparatus” and contributing to the destabilization of Ukraine.

In addition, von der Leyen said the EU will limit the Russian government’s ability to raise capital on the bloc’s financial markets.

“We will make it as difficult as possible for the Kremlin to pursue its aggressive actions,” she said.

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Military personnel attend the funeral of Ukrainian Army captain killed in eastern Ukraine Anton Sydorov, 35, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022 in Kyiv. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

BERLIN — Germany’s top security official says authorities are preparing for possible cyberattacks in response to the crisis with Russia.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that security agencies have taken protective measures to avert such attacks and Germany’s national cyber defense center is monitoring developments.

Interior Minister Nancy Faser said on Twitter that authorities “are prepared for all conceivable impacts of this conflict.”

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said Tuesday after a phone call with his Polish counterpart that they have agreed to hold an “extraordinary summit” Friday in Warsaw between the Bucharest Nine members to “coordinate our response and demonstrate our unity” amid Russia’s moves against Ukraine.

“Today I discussed with the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, the serious security situation in the Black Sea region, following Russian actions, which flagrantly violates international law,” Iohannis wrote online. “We stand with Ukraine!”

The Bucharest Nine, which Romania and Poland launched in 2015, is a group comprised of NATO’s easternmost members and also includes Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

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BELVOIR CASTLE, England — Defense ministers from the Baltic states urged world leaders to move swiftly and impose harsh sanctions on Russia, saying their countries know firsthand the dangers of trying to appease a bully.

The Baltic countries’ position on NATO’s eastern flank was at the forefront of discussions Tuesday as defense ministers from the Joint Expeditionary Force met in central England. The U.K.-led force is a group of 10 nations designed to react more quickly in the event of threats like those now posed by Russia.

Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said in an interview with the Associated Press that world leaders must act swiftly to impose punishing sanctions or it will be too late to stand up for freedom and democracy.

He said failure to stop the Russian president’s “aggression” now would send the message that Moscow can “play around with the Europeans” and the U.S.

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LONDON — Sanctions experts say Western measures against Russia will have to go much further to have a chance of deterring President Vladimir Putin from further military intervention in Ukraine.

Tyler Kustra, a University of Nottingham politics professor, said sanctions announced Tuesday by Britain on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals were “a paper cut.”

He said “the U.K. could be doing a lot more. There are certainly far more oil oligarchs in London that could be sanctioned. They could have their assets frozen, they could be kicked out of the country.”

Thomas Mayne, a corruption expert and visiting fellow at the Chatham House think-tank, also said Britain’s status as a hub for no-questions-asked Russian money was a major problem.

“For at least 20 years, we’ve been welcoming Russian money,” he said. “We’ve been allowing people with very dubious sources of wealth to gain Tier 1 investor visas in the U.K., to buy property, to list their companies on the London Stock Exchange, far more so than American stock exchanges. And we’ve created a situation where now we’re wondering whether that was such a good idea.”

He said Germany’s decision to halt Nord Stream 2 pipeline was “a welcome step” because part of the reason it was built was to cut Ukraine off from gas transit fees that Russia had to pay.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for international recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, an end to Ukraine’s NATO membership bid and a halt to weapons shipments there.

Putin claimed Tuesday that Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula should be internationally recognized as a legitimate reflection of the local population’s choice, likening it to a vote for Kosovo independence.

The annexation has been widely condemned by Western powers as a breach of international law.

To end the current crisis, he also called for the renunciation of Ukraine’s NATO bid, saying it should assume a “neutral status,” and said that the West should stop sending weapons there.

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Russia is taking military action against Ukraine and has condemned Moscow’s decision to recognize separatist areas of southeast Ukraine as independent.

Stoltenberg called the move Tuesday a “serious escalation by Russia and a flagrant violation of international law.” The NATO chief called the military action a “further invasion” of Ukraine by Russia which had already invaded its neighbor in 2014.

He added that there’s “every indication” Russia continues to plan for a full-scale attack on Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said that NATO allies have more than 100 warplanes on high alert and more than 120 warships ready at sea from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea.

He said that the NATO response force remains on high readiness but is not yet being deployed, although some allies are moving troops, ships and planes into the Baltic states and near the Black Sea to defend other NATO members.

A family crosses from pro-Russian separatists controlled territory to Ukrainian government controlled areas in Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point open daily, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

MOSCOW — Russian lawmakers have given President Vladimir Putin permission to use military force outside the country.

The unanimous vote in Russia’s upper house on Tuesday could presage a broader attack on Ukraine after the U.S. said an invasion was already underway there.

The vote formalizes a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions, where an eight-year conflict has killed nearly 14,000 people.

Several European leaders said earlier in the day that Russian troops have moved into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin recognized their independence.

But it was unclear how large the movements were. Ukraine and its Western allies have long said Russian troops are fighting in the region. Moscow denies those allegations.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s closest allies appeared reluctant to immediately back Moscow’s decision to recognize the independence of rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry of Belarus said Tuesday it saw Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move “with respect and understanding,” but refrained from saying whether Minsk would follow suit and recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics.

Officials in Kazakhstan whose president last month asked for a Russia-led security alliance to send troops to quell violent unrest, said the issue of recognizing the separatist regions was not on the country’s agenda.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev who’s in Moscow for talks with Putin, made no mention of Moscow’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk in his publicly broadcast remarks, but focused instead on bilateral relations.

Another Russian ally, Armenia, has so far issued no message of support for the Russian move.

Meanwhile, Putin sought to reassure Russia’s ex-Soviet allies that he doesn’t envision resurrecting the Soviet Union. He told the Azerbaijani president that speculation that Russia would attempt to restore its empire “is absolutely not true.”

Ukrainian soldiers carry a coffin with the body of Ukrainian Army captain Anton Sydorov, 35, killed in eastern Ukraine, during his funeral, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

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WASHINGTON — The White House has begun referring to Russian troop deployments in eastern Ukraine as an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term — a red line that President Joe Biden has said would result in the U.S. levying severe sanctions against Moscow.

Jon Finer, the principal deputy national security adviser, said Tuesday: “We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine.” He said “latest” was important — “an invasion is an invasion and that is what is under way.”

The White House decided to begin referring to Russia’s actions as an “invasion” because of the situation on the ground, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The administration resisted initially calling the deployment of troops because the White House wanted to see what Russia was actually going to do. The official added that, after assessing Russian troop movements, it became clear it was a new invasion.

— By Aamer Madhani in Washington.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s defense minister says the military will deploy soldiers and equipment to the region near the Ukrainian border to prepare for potential humanitarian and border protection operations.

Defense Minister Tibor Benko said Prime Minister Viktor Orban ordered the military to mobilize along the country’s eastern border to prevent armed groups from potentially entering Hungarian territory, Hungarian state news agency MTI reported.

Benko said that he believed further escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine could bring armed activity all the way to Ukraine’s western border. He said Hungarian soldiers would need to be prepared for the possible arrival of Ukrainian refugees in the wake of a greater conflict.

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Britain is slapping sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals over Russia’s latest military moves on Ukraine.

Johnson told lawmakers that sanctions would hit Rossiya Bank, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

He said three Russian oligarchs with interests in energy and infrastructure — Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg — will have their assets frozen and be banned from traveling to the U.K.

All three have already been sanctioned by the United States.

Johnson accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “establishing the pretext for a full-scale offensive” against Ukraine and said “further powerful sanctions” would follow if that happened.

“This the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do and we hold further sanctions at readiness to be deployed,” Johnson told British lawmakers.

He also said that Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers have been spotted in the separatist Ukrainian regions recognized as independent by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that amounts to “a renewed invasion” of Ukraine.

Smoke billows from a power and heating plant after it was shelled in Shchastya, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government says it is drawing up plans to assist some 100,000 ethnic Greeks who live in eastern Ukraine.

Andreas Katsaniotis, a deputy foreign minister for Greek communities abroad, said consular services had been enhanced in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, where the ethnic Greek community is based.

Plans to assist members of that community were the subject of an emergency meeting convened Tuesday by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with top defense, energy and foreign policy officials. Asked if there was a plan to evacuate ethnic Greeks from the region, Katsaniotis told state television: “Of course, but we still haven’t reached that situation.”

Greece on Tuesday strongly condemned Moscow’s recognition of two separatist republics in Ukraine, as the country’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, called an emergency meeting of top government defense and foreign policy officials to discuss the crisis.

“Russia’s recognition of the illegal and unilateral declaration of ‘independence’ of the separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine is a clear violation of fundamental principles of international law, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the Minsk agreements,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. “We have repeatedly stressed that Greece is in favor of respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of all states and condemns any decision that is contrary to these fundamental principles of international law.”

NATO-member Greece has traditionally friendly ties with Russia.

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A man holds a giant stuffed toy while crossing from Ukrainian government controlled areas to pro-Russian separatists’ controlled territory, in Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point open daily, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)BRUSSELS — Top European Union officials say the bloc is set to impose sanctions on several Russian officials as well as banks financing the Russian armed forces. It also intends to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.

A statement Tuesday said the move would “target those who were involved in the illegal decision” to recognize two rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. It didn’t identify them.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel said it would also “target trade from the two breakaway regions to and from the EU.”

They said the restrictive measures would aim to limit “the ability of the Russian state and government to access the EU’s capital and financial markets and services, to limit the financing of escalatory and aggressive policies.”

EU foreign ministers are meeting later Tuesday to discuss the measures. The two leaders said that “the EU has prepared and stands ready to adopt additional measures at a later stage if needed in the light of further developments.”

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BELVOIR CASTLE, England — Latvia’s defense minister has urged world leaders to act now to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine, arguing that sanctions must be swift and punishing or it would be too late to protect international security.

Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it was time for European countries and their allies to impose sanctions on Russia.

He said that “if we do fail to stop Mr. Putin now — to stop his aggression — and if we are not managing to force him to de-escalate now, then our global values will decrease and everybody will think that they can play around with the Europeans — they can play around also with Americans.”

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HELSINKI — Finland’s president says that, despite Russia’s actions in Ukraine, he hasn’t seen an increase in Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea, where many countries are suspicious of Moscow’s intentions.

President Sauli Niinisto said Tuesday that “strangely enough, situation in the entire Baltic Sea area seems very calm and the number of Russian military equipment dispatched in the area is on the decline.”

He said he doesn’t currently see Finland, which is a member of the European Union but not NATO, facing a military threat from Russia. The two countries share a long border. But he stressed that Finland will pay close attention to Moscow’s future actions outside Ukraine.

Niinisto said he didn’t know why Russian has “now simply decided to settle the Ukraine situation that has been going on for some seven, eight years.”

He said one reason may be Russia has noticed “that Ukraine has been strengthening year-by-year and is continuing to do so.”

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz waits for Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Russian President Vladimir Putin may be looking for a pretext to occupy the whole of Ukraine.

Scholz said Tuesday that his and other countries made clear at a U.N. Security Council meeting that Moscow “has no support in the world” for its decision to recognize the independence of rebel-held regions in eastern Ukraine.

He said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “deserves our highest respect for his country not letting itself be provoked by Russia, because the Russian president is waiting for just that to have a pretext possibly to occupy all of Ukraine.”

Scholz made the comment during an appearance in Berlin at which he announced the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

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BERLIN — Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany has taken steps to halt the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.

Scholz told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that his government was taking the measure in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The pipeline bringing natural gas from Russia to Germany has long been criticized by the United States and some European countries who argue that it increases Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies.

Scholz said that the government had decided to “reassess” the certification of the pipeline, which hasn’t begun operating yet.

“That will certainly take time, if I may say so,” he said.

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People wave Russian national flags celebrating the recognizing the independence in the center of Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, eastern Ukraine, late Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov)

MOSCOW — Russia says its recognition of independence for areas in eastern Ukraine extends to territory currently held by Ukrainian forces.

The statement Tuesday further raises the stakes amid Western fears that Moscow could follow up on Monday’s recognition of rebel regions with a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia has recognized the rebel regions’ independence “in borders that existed when they proclaimed” their independence in 2014.

Ukrainian forces later reclaimed control of large part of both regions during a nearly eight-year conflict that has killed over 14,000 people.

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DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s foreign minister has praised Russia’s recognition of the independence of rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, describing it as a step “toward defending world peace.”

Faisal Mekdad spoke during a visit to Moscow. He said that “we have been cooperating with the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk for a long time, and we believe that these current conditions will help increase this cooperation,” Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.

Also Tuesday, President Bashar Assad’s office released a statement saying that the Syrian president received in December a delegation of Russian legislators, including representatives from the Donetsk region, and told them at the time that Damascus “is ready to recognize the Republic of Donetsk and an agreement was reached to start relations with it.”

Russia has been a main backer of Assad’s government during the Arab country’s decade-old conflict. Russian military intervention since September 2015 has helped tip the balance of power in Assad’s favor.

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BELGRADE, Serbia – Most of the leaders in the war-scarred Balkans condemned Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, while Serbia’s president said he fears pressure to join Western sanctions against his Kremlin allies.

″There are now many challenges (for Serbia) of political, security and economic nature,” Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said. “The political pressures will be greater than ever.”

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who led the small Adriatic state to NATO membership in 2017 despite strong opposition from Russia, gave his support to Ukraine.

“Montenegro confirms its unanimous support of the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” said Djukanovic.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic also slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision, as did Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.

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A photo of Ukrainian army captain Anton Sydorov, 35, killed in eastern Ukraine, is displayed in a military vehicle carrying his body during his funeral, in Kyiv, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

VIENNA — Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer says his country has summoned the Russian ambassador to protest Moscow’s breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Nehammer said Austria supports the EU’s approach of imposing sanctions against Russia step by step, starting with a formal decision Tuesday afternoon by the bloc’s foreign ministers.

“There is a variety of sanctions options that now need to be used in a targeted way because we have to assume that we haven’t yet reached the peak of the escalation,” he told reporters in Vienna.

Nehammer also assured Austrians that even if Russia were to stop delivering natural gas immediately, “the energy supply is secure.”

Authorities in Vienna are also stepping up surveillance of potential cyberthreats to Austrian government institutions. The country’s foreign ministry was targeted in a cyberattack two years ago that was traced to Russia.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine is “unacceptable” and is calling for a respect of international laws.

Speaking to Turkish journalists during a three-nation tour of Africa, Erdogan said the decision was a clear violation of Ukraine’s political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“We consider this decision by Russia as being unacceptable,” Erdogan said. “We reiterate our call to the parties to respect common sense and international law.”

His comments were reported by Hurriyet newspaper and other media.

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BELVOIR CASTLE, England — U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has warned of worrying signs that Russia has begun to move forces into Ukraine as he opened a conference of defense ministers from Baltic and North Atlantic states.

Wallace issued the warning to a meeting of defense ministers from the nations of the Joint Expeditionary Force on Tuesday in Leicestershire, England, though he said reports of military equipment moving into Ukraine’s Donbas region would need to be verified.

“Many of us were forewarning that President Putin already had an agenda – you heard that agenda in his speech last night,’’ Wallace said, referring to Putin’s decision to recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. “This is a sovereign state which has now had some of its land effectively annexed from it.”

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SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s Houthi rebels have welcomed Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in southeast Ukraine.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the rebels’ Supreme Revolutionary Committees, said late Monday that the Iranian-backed Houthis support the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics. He called for restraint to avoid sliding into a war.

The Houthis have been in war against a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, months after the rebels overran Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and ousted the internationally recognized government.

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HELSINKI — The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have strongly condemned Russia’s decision to recognize the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states.

Estonian President Alar Karis said that “Russia tore the Minsk agreements into pieces,” referring to a 2015 peace deal. He said ”this shows that Moscow’s aim is to deepen the conflict, not to solve it.”

In Baltic neighbor Latvia, President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and the country’s Parliament released a joint statement condemning Moscow’s actions.

The statement said that “in a gross violation of international law, under a fabricated pretext, and by spreading false information, Russia seeks to induce a change in Ukraine’s political leadership and foreign policy course by violent means.”

Lithuania Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte tweeted that Russia President Vladimir “Putin just put Kafka & Orwell to shame: no limits to dictator’s imagination, no lows too low, no lies too blatant, no red lines too red to cross.”

She added: “What we witnessed (Monday evening) might seem surreal for democratic world. But the way we respond will define us for the generations to come.

Poland’s Minister for European Union Affairs Konrad Szymanski, center, attends a meeting of General Affairs ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers will meet Tuesday to decide what sanctions to impose over Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in southeast Ukraine, the EU’s top diplomat said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the meeting in Paris “will take the political decisions vis-à-vis the European response.”

“Clearly, that response will be in the form of sanctions,” Borrell said. He said the aim is not to impose the whole range of sanctions that the EU has prepared should Russian invade Ukraine, but rather to address the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent.

Asked whether Russia’s decision to send “peacekeepers” in already amounts to an invasion, Borrell said, “I wouldn’t say that’s a fully fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”

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LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. will introduce “immediate” economic sanctions against Russia, and warned that President Vladimir Putin is bent on “a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

Johnson said Putin had “completely torn up international law” and British sanctions would target not just the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk but “Russian economic interests as hard as we can.”

Johnson is to set out further details of the sanctions in the House of Commons later Tuesday.

He told broadcasters that this would be “just the first barrage of U.K. economic sanctions against Russia because we expect, I’m afraid, that there is more Russian irrational behavior to come.”

“I’m afraid all the evidence is that President Putin is indeed bent on a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, the overrunning, the subjugation of an independent, sovereign European country and I think, let’s be absolutely clear, that would be absolutely catastrophic.”

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PARIS: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned in forceful terms on Tuesday the move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize breakaway republics in Ukraine as a violation of international law and the Minsk peace agreement with Ukraine.

“Obviously, we will take the initiative to impose sanctions,” he said, adding that EU foreign ministers will meet “to examine together what measures to take.”

The 27-nation EU has said it would impose sanctions against Russia in case of an invasion of Ukraine.

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BRUSSELS — A top European Union official says Russia’s recognition of the Ukrainian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and to send troops into the territories is an “act of war.”

Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for Justice, said the 27-nation bloc is ready to implement sanctions against Russia.

Speaking to Belgian broadcaster RTBF, Reynders said a unanimous accord from EU member countries is needed for new sanctions to be imposed.

He said the anticipated measures would evolve gradually, depending on Russian actions. The first types would be travel bans against individuals and sanctions against economic entities via the seizing of assets in Europe and abroad.

In addition, Reynders said “it will be necessary to ensure that there are no more imports of goods or services from Russia, such as energy, and that Russia’s global access to financial services is terminated.”

“Everything is on the table,” he said, adding member states were discussing how gradual the moves would be and the possibility for diplomacy to ease the conflict.

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LONDON — A British Cabinet minister says a Russian invasion of Ukraine has begun, and the U.K. will respond with sanctions later Tuesday.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Russian President Vladimir Putin “has sent in tanks and troops” to two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine he recognized on Monday.

Javid told Sky News that “we are waking up to a very dark day in Europe and it’s clear from what we have already seen and found out today that the Russians, President Putin, has decided to attack the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity.”

“We have seen that he has recognized these breakaway eastern regions in Ukraine and from the reports we can already tell that he has sent in tanks and troops. From that you can conclude that the invasion of Ukraine has begun.”

He said Prime Minister Boris Johnson would address Parliament later about new sanctions on Russia. The U.K. government says it is coordinating its response with the European Union.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Nordic leaders condemned Russia’s decision to recognize the Ukrainian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, saying Tuesday that Moscow had violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde called it “a blatant violation of international law.”

Denmark Foreign Minister Jepp Kofod called the Russian move “harmful” and said the Scandinavian nation urged Moscow to “stop its breach of international law.”

In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto said the country would respond in unison with the European Union, of which it is a member. Non-EU member Norway said the Russian decision “directly contradicts the spirit and the letter of the Minsk agreements.”

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SINGAPORE — Singapore said Tuesday it is “gravely concerned” about the escalation of tensions on the border between Ukraine and Russia and the “Russian decision to recognize two breakaway Ukrainian regions.”

“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine must be respected,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It added that the dispute should be settled through talks and diplomacy in “accordance with international law, and avoid action that will further raise tensions in the region.”

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UNITED NATIONS — Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador is demanding that Russia cancel its recognition of the independence of separatist regions in the east, immediately withdraw its “occupation troops” sent there by President Vladimir Putin, and return to negotiations.

Sergiy Kyslytsya told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday that Ukraine called the rare evening session to protest and condemn Putin’s “illegal and illegitimate” decision to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He said Ukraine’s borders “will remain unchangeable regardless of any statements and actions by the Russian Federation.”

He said Russia’s occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk ruin negotiating frameworks and “may be considered” as Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from the Minsk Agreements aimed at restoring peace to eastern Ukraine.

“We are committed to a political diplomatic settlement and do not succumb to provocations,” Kyslytsya said.

While Ukraine has the right to self-defense, he said, “We are committed to a peaceful and diplomatic path and we will stay firmly on it. We are on our land. We are not afraid of anything or anyone. We owe nothing to anyone, and we will not give away anything to anyone.”

Kyslytsya urged the Security Council to support Ukraine and take action to restore international peace and security, but that will be virtually impossible because of Russia’s veto power in the council.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey criticized Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, describing the move as a “clear violation of Ukraine’s political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement early Tuesday said: “we find this decision by Russia unacceptable and reject it.”

“We emphasize our commitment to the preservation of Ukraine’s political unity and territorial integrity, and call on all parties to use common sense and comply with international law,” the ministry statement read.

NATO-member Turkey has close relations to both Ukraine and Russia and had repeatedly offered to mediate to end the tensions.

Separately, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement to “strongly recommend” that Turkish citizens leave Ukraine’s eastern regions.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s Foreign Ministry says it has grave concerns over the Ukraine crisis and called for related nations to respect the Minsk agreement while finding a diplomatic solution.

Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam also said Tuesday that diplomats were still trying to persuade 63 South Koreans in Ukraine to leave. There were around 600 South Koreans in Ukraine at the end of January.

“Our government has consistently supported Ukraine’s sovereignty and the preservation of its territory,” Choi said.

President Moon Jae-in earlier called for officials to prepare for an economic fallout in South Korea if the Ukraine crisis is prolonged.

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In this image made from UNTV video, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya speaks during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine, at the U.N. headquarters, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (UNTV via AP)

UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s U.N. ambassador has accused the United States and its Western allies of egging Ukraine toward “an armed provocation.”

Speaking at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday night, Vassily Nebenzia accused Ukraine of sharply increasing shelling in residential areas of the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions and in Russian towns and villages near the border.

He said Ukraine has concentrated a 120,000-strong military contingent along the contact line with pro-Russian separatists in the east and “subversive groups” have penetrated or tried to penetrate the territory known as the Donbas to sabotage critical infrastructure.

“So it has become clear that Donbas is on the brink of a new Ukrainian military adventure as was already the case in 2014 and 2015,” he said.

Nebenzia said that’s why President Vladimir Putin announced earlier Monday that Russia will recognize Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and is putting Russian troops into the two states as peacekeepers.

The separatist authorities said Monday that at least four civilians were killed by Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours, and several others were wounded. Ukraine’s military said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the weekend, and another serviceman was wounded Monday. Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk insisted that Ukrainian forces weren’t returning fire.

Nebenzia said Russia was open to diplomacy but wouldn’t allow “a new bloodbath in the Donbas,” urging the United States and other Western nations to not worsen the situation.

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In this image made from UNTV video, China’s Ambassador to the United Nations Zhang Jun speaks during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine, at the U.N. headquarters, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (UNTV via AP)

UNITED NATIONS — China has called for restraint and is encouraging every effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, saying Beijing believes all countries should solve disputes by peaceful means in line with the U.N. Charter.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun called on the key parties in the Ukraine dispute “to continue dialogue and consultation and seek reasonable solutions.”

Zhang gave very brief remarks at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday night called by Ukraine, the U.S. and six other countries following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia will recognize the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine as independent states and is putting Russian troops into Luhansk and Donetsk as peacekeepers.

The Chinese ambassador made no mention of actions on Monday by its usual ally, Russia, saying only that “all parties concerned must exercise restraint, and avoid any action that may fuel tensions,” and to “welcome and encourage every effort for a diplomatic solution.”

Chinese state media is reporting that China’s Embassy in Kyiv notified its citizens in Ukraine to heighten their safety awareness and avoid conflict areas.

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TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida criticized Russia for violating Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and said his country will discuss possible “severe actions” including sanctions with the international community.

Kishida was responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signing Monday of decree recognizing the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, ordering his troops to “maintain peace” in those areas. Putin’s announcement raised fears of an imminent invasion.

“Those actions are unacceptable, and we express our strong condemnation,” Kishida told reporters Tuesday. “Japan is watching the development with grave concern.”

Separately, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tuesday it was important that Group of Seven nations that share values such as democracy and rule of law stick together and lead the international community.

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In this image provided by the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine, at the U.N. headquarters, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (Evan Schneider/United Nations via AP)

UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has dismissed “as nonsense” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he is putting Russian troops in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine as peacekeepers, saying their presence is “clearly the basis for Russia’s attempt to create a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday night that this move and Putin’s earlier announcement that Russia will recognize the separatist areas as “independent states” are also an “unprovoked” attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. By his actions, she said, Putin “has torn the Minsk Agreement to shreds.”

Thomas-Greenfield said Putin “has put before the world a choice” and it “must not look away” because “history tells us that looking the other way in the face of such hostility will be a far more costly path.”

She said Putin is testing to see “how far he can push us all,” and all countries must stand up for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries.

Thomas-Greenfield warned that “the consequences of Russia’s actions will be dire — across Ukraine, across Europe, and across the globe.”

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said there was no basis under international law for recognizing the separatist regions, and that by doing so Russia was further undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“We are concerned that this is a calculated act by President Putin to create a pretext for invasion, which would be a clear act of aggression. We again call for urgent diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution,” Mahuta said in a statement.

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TRIABUNNA, Australia — Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Russia should “unconditionally withdraw” from Ukrainian territory and cease to threaten its neighbors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered forces Monday to “maintain peace” in separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, hours after the Kremlin recognized the area’s independence. The announcement raised fears that an invasion was imminent, if not already underway.

Morrison at a news conference Tuesday in Australia’s Tasmania state said Russia’s actions were “unacceptable, it’s unprovoked, it’s unwarranted.”

“It is important that like-minded countries who denounce this sort of behavior do stick together and I can assure you that the moment that other countries put in place strong and severe sanctions on Russia, we will be in lockstep with them,” he said.

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