US sanctions Russia for 'beginning' invasion of Ukraine

Frankie Taggart - Agence France-Presse
US sanctions Russia for 'beginning' invasion of Ukraine
This Maxar satellite image taken and released on Feb. 22, 2022 shows a close-up of assembled vehicles, part of a new deployment consisting of more than 100 vehicles and dozens of troop tents/shelters, at a small airfield known as the V.D. Bolshoy Bokov aerodrome near Mozyr, southern Belarus, north of the border with Ukraine.
2022 Maxar Technologies via AFP

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced tough new sanctions on Russia for "beginning" an invasion of Ukraine but said there was still time to avoid war, even as Vladimir Putin signaled plans to send troops beyond Russia's borders.

Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, gave Putin unanimous approval to deploy "peacekeepers" to two breakaway Ukrainian regions now recognized by Moscow as independent, and potentially into other parts of Ukraine.

Biden announced what he called the "first tranche" of sanctions, including steps to starve Russia of financing and target financial institutions and its "elites."

But he left the door open to a final effort at diplomacy to avert a bloody full-scale Russian invasion.

"There's no question that Russia is the aggressor, so we're clear eyed about the challenges we're facing," the president said.

"Nonetheless, there is still time to avert the worst case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people."

Biden's address followed a wave of sanctions announced by Britain and the European Union, after Putin recognized the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk rebel republics.

Germany also announced it was halting certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.

Putin's plans remained unclear, but Western officials have been warning for weeks he has been preparing for an all-out invasion of Ukraine, a move that could spark a catastrophic war in Europe. 

'Rejection of diplomacy'

The Biden administration signaled it no longer believes that Russia is serious about avoiding conflict, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had canceled a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov scheduled for later in the week.

"Now that we see the invasion is beginning and Russia has made clear its wholesale rejection of diplomacy, it does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time," Blinken said.

He added the US remained committed to a diplomatic solution if Russia were prepared to show it wanted to deescalate.

Speaking to journalists, Putin said the Minsk peace agreements on Ukraine's conflict no longer existed and he recognized claims by the separatists to more territory than they currently control.

But he added that the deployment of Russian troops would "depend on the specific situation... on the ground" and appeared to offer Ukraine a way out by giving up on its hopes to join the US-led NATO military alliance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken pauses during a news conference with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, not pictured, at the State Department in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2022.
AFP/Carolyn Kaster, pool

"The best solution... would be if the current Kyiv authorities themselves refused to join NATO and maintained neutrality," Putin said.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had "every indication" that Moscow "continues to plan for a full-scale attack on Ukraine."

Kyiv showed no sign of backing down to Moscow, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba meeting Biden to appeal for more military aid.

'Further military aggression'

Biden said in his White House address the United States would continue to supply "defensive" weapons to Ukraine and deploy more US troops to reinforce NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

Kyiv recalled its top diplomat from Moscow as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Putin's recognition of the breakaway regions heralded "further military aggression" against Ukraine.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said EU foreign ministers "unanimously agreed on an initial sanctions package", as he also cancelled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

"The sanctions will hurt Russia and will hurt a lot," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters, adding that targets for asset freezes and visa bans included 351 members of Russia's lower house State Duma.

Britain slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires, and Canada followed suit with similar measures. 

In some capitals there has been debate over whether Moscow sending troops into an area that was already controlled by Russian-backed rebels amounts to the kind of all-out invasion that would justify imposing the harshest sanctions.

But Putin's rhetoric was sure to raise concerns.

Russia said it had established diplomatic relations "at the level of embassies" with the separatist-controlled regions.

And Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent congratulations to his counterparts in the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic.

'We weren't expecting this'

In the frontline town of Shchastya on Tuesday, shellfire rang out around an electric power station as fearful residents awaited the Russian deployment.

A shell hit the roof of 59-year-old Valentyna Shmatkova's apartment block overnight, shattering all the windows in her two-room apartment.

"We spent the war in the basement," she said, referring to the 2014 fighting that saw the region break away from Ukraine. 

"But we weren't expecting this. We never thought Ukraine and Russia wouldn't end up agreeing."

Putin announced he was recognizing the territories, which broke away from Kyiv's control in 2014 in a conflict that cost 14,000 lives.

After a dramatic televised meeting with his top officials, Putin spoke to the Russian people in a 65-minute address from his Kremlin office on Monday.

In an often angry hour-long address from his Kremlin office, the Russian leader railed against Ukraine as a failed state and "puppet" of the West, accusing Kyiv of preparing a "blitzkrieg" to retake the separatist regions.

US officials say there is a 150,000-strong Russian force poised to launch an all-out assault on Ukraine.

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 18, 2023 - 10:13am

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday secured Turkey's crucial backing for Ukraine's NATO aspirations after winning a US pledge for cluster munitions that could inflict massive damage on Russian forces on the battlefield.

Washington's decision to deliver the controversial weapons — banned across a large part of the world but not in Russia or Ukraine — dramatically ups the stakes in the war, which entered its 500th day Saturday.

Zelensky has been travelling across Europe trying to secure bigger and better weapons for his outmatched army, which has launched a long-awaited counteroffensive that is progressing less swiftly than Ukraine's allies had hoped. — AFP

October 18, 2023 - 10:13am

Washington's decision to supply Ukraine with ATACMS long-range missiles is "a grave mistake", Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov says Wednesday.

"The White House's decision to send long-range missiles to Ukrainians is a grave mistake. The consequences of this step, which was deliberately hidden from the public, will be of the most serious nature," he says in a statement. — AFP

October 15, 2023 - 3:26pm

President Vladimir Putin says Sunday that Russian forces had made gains in their Ukraine offensive including in Avdiivka, a symbolic industrial hub.

"Our troops are improving their position in almost all of this area, which is quite vast," he says in an interview on Russian television, an extract of which was posted on social media on Sunday. "This concerns the areas of Kupiansk, Zaporizhia and Avdiivka." — AFP

October 12, 2023 - 12:48pm

The regional governor says debris from a drone destroyed over the Russian region of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, fell on homes and killed three people, including a young child.

The air defense system "shot down an aircraft-type UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) approaching the city", says Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, adding that the falling debris destroyed several homes.

"Most importantly, three people were killed, one of them a small child," he writes on the Telegram messaging app, accompanied by pictures of a house reduced to a pile of rubble behind red and white police tape. — AFP

October 10, 2023 - 2:18pm

Ukraine's air force says on Tuesday that it had destroyed 27 of 36 Russian attack drones overnight in the south of the country.

Ukrainian forces downed 27 "Shahed-136/131" drones in the southern Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa regions, the air force said on the messaging platform Telegram.

In all, Moscow had launched 36 of the Iranian-made drones from the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, it says. — AFP

October 6, 2023 - 7:28pm

The Kremlin claims on Friday Russian forces never targeted civilian infrastructure after Ukraine blamed Moscow for a missile attack that killed over 50 people in the eastern village of Groza.

"We repeat that the Russian military does not strike civilian targets. Strikes are carried out on military targets, on places where military personnel are concentrated," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says in his daily briefing. — AFP

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