West retaliates with sanctions for Russia’s actions in Ukraine | national news
By RAF CASERT, AAMER MADHANI and ZEKE MILLER – Associated Press
BRUSSELS (AP) — Responding quickly to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to send troops into breakaway regions of Ukraine, world leaders retaliated Tuesday with non-military actions in hopes of averting all-out war in Europe.
Germany has taken the first big step by taking steps to suspend certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia – a massive and lucrative project long sought by Moscow but criticized by the United States for increasing dependence on the Europe to Russian energy supply.
And in Washington, US President Joe Biden announced financial sanctions against Russian banks and officials close to Putin and their sons as punishment for what he called “the start of a Russian invasion of Ukraine”. He said the United States would impose a “total blockage” on two major Russian financial institutions and “comprehensive sanctions” on Russian debt.
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“That means we’ve cut off the Russian government from Western finance,” Biden said. “He can no longer raise money from the West, nor can he trade his new debt in our markets or in European markets.”
Biden promised more sanctions would come if Putin goes further.
The European Union has announced sanctions targeting the 351 Duma lawmakers who voted to recognize breakaway regions in Ukraine, as well as 27 other Russian defense and banking officials and institutions. They have also sought to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.
“This sanctions package (…) will hurt Russia and it will hurt a lot,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after chairing a meeting of foreign ministers of the EU in Paris.
“We will make it as difficult as possible for the Kremlin to continue its aggressive policy,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
Outside the EU, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson named five Russian banks and three wealthy Russian businessmen whom the UK slapped with sanctions on Tuesday.
Australia said on Wednesday it would align itself with the United States and Britain in targeting two Russian banks. He also imposed sanctions and travel bans on eight members of Putin’s Security Council. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a first batch of measures in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Japan also announced sanctions, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida saying on Wednesday that his government would ban all new issuance and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan. He said Japan would also ban travel by people linked to the two Ukrainian rebel regions and freeze their assets in Japan, and ban trade with the two regions.
And if Putin pushes further in Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted, “there will be even stronger sanctions, even a higher price to pay.”
The United States and other Western nations have pressed daily for diplomatic efforts to avert a dangerous military confrontation. But the failure of that effort was underscored on Tuesday when Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled plans for a Thursday meeting in Geneva with his Russian counterpart, saying Russia’s actions showed it was pointless.
Western powers have long made clear that the fate of Ukraine should not lead to direct military confrontation with Russia and the possibility of world war, so sanctions were the limited option.
“No lows too low, no lies too blatant, no red lines too red to cross,” Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said as she summed up the political disgust for Putin’s actions felt by nations across Europe at North America and democracies hugging Russia’s borders in Asia like Japan and South Korea.
However, Putin continued to destabilize the world with a strategy that confused his plans and possible actions.
Russia said it was sending what it called “peacekeeping forces” to eastern Ukraine, but EU foreign policy chief Borrell stressed that it they were “troops” on sovereign Ukrainian territory.
“I wouldn’t call it a full-fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil,” Borrell said.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace didn’t mince words. “Russia has already invaded Ukraine. They did so in 2014, illegally occupying Crimea and Donbass. This is yet another invasion of their sovereign territory,” Wallace said.
Whatever the description, the latest developments were enough to push the 27-nation bloc into high alert mode, and EU foreign ministers stressed that the sanctions announced on Tuesday were taken in close consultation with the United States and other Western allies.
They stopped before the “massive” package threatened by the EU and Washington for a full military invasion of the national territory that Kiev still controls.
“How we respond will define us for generations to come,” Simonyte said.
Too much too soon, however, could harm the international response, said Britain’s Johnson. “This is the first tranche, the first barrage of what we are prepared to do, and we have further sanctions in view of being rolled out,” he told UK lawmakers.
“It’s a first step,” acknowledged French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. “We have more ammunition.”
Biden’s announcement appeared to hold in store some of the broadest and toughest sanctions the United States is considering. These include an export ban that would deprive Russia of high American technology for its industries and military, and more sweeping financial bans that could cripple Russia’s ability to do business with the rest of the world.
Still, US Secretary of State Blinken said the sanctions announced are consistent with a “start high, stay high” approach.
White House deputy national security adviser Daleep Singh added that the initial sanctions send the message that “no Russian financial institution is safe if the invasion continues.”
“No one should think our goal is to maximize penalties,” Singh said. “Sanctions are not an end in themselves. They serve a higher purpose, and that purpose is to deter and prevent.”
The two main Russian banks targeted by US sanctions are Vnesheconombank (VEB) and Promsvyazbank Public Joint Stock Company (PSB). VEB is crucial for Russia’s ability to raise funds, and PSB is essential for Russia’s defense sector. The two hold more than $80 billion in combined assets and will be barred from transacting in US and European banking systems.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba said after a meeting with Blinken in Washington on Tuesday that US and Western sanctions against Russia in escalating waves can work, but he urged allies to be aggressive. Kuleba argued that Putin shouldn’t have a “single moment” when he feels sanctions have hit a ceiling.
Among those cited for sanctions are Denis Bortnikov, vice president of state-owned bank VTB, and Petr Fradkov, chairman and CEO of PSB.
The father of the VTB official, Alexander Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service and permanent member of the Security Council, was also named in the sanctions lists. Fradkov is the son of Mikhail Fradkov, a former Russian prime minister and former director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, who was already under US sanctions.
Sergei Kiriyenko, Putin’s first deputy chief of staff, and his son Vladimir Kiriyenko, who is the CEO of the parent company of Russia’s leading social media platform, VKontakte, were also nominated.
Hopes are dwindling as to the possibility of averting a major conflict. Putin’s directive came hours after he recognized Ukraine’s two breakaway regions as independent, building up Russian military support and antagonizing Western leaders who see his actions as a violation of world order.
Putin blamed NATO for the current crisis and called the US-led alliance a threat to Russia.
The global condemnation came amid growing skirmishes in eastern parts of Ukraine that Western powers believe Russia could use as a pretext for an attack on European-leaning democracy that has defied Moscow’s attempts to bring it back in its orbit.
With around 150,000 Russian troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, the United States warned that Moscow had already decided to invade. Still, Biden and Putin tentatively agreed to a possible meeting brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron in a last-ditch effort to avert war.
AP writers Aamer Madhani and Zeke Miller reported from Washington. AP reporters from around the world contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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