VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV, YURAS KARMANOV and LORN KUK
MOSCOW (AP) – The White House says President Joe Biden is ordering new sanctions after Russia recognizes separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
The Biden administration called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement Monday a “blatant violation of Russia’s international obligations.” Sanctions will ban new investment, trade and financing in Putin’s two separatist regions of Ukraine. Senior EU officials also said the bloc would impose sanctions.
THIS IS AN UPDATE OF NEWS. The previous history of the AP is given below.
Senior European Union officials say the bloc will impose sanctions on those involved in Russia’s recognition of the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine amid fears of a potential Russian invasion.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel said in a joint statement that the recognition was a “flagrant violation of international law.” The statement added that the bloc “will respond with sanctions” and “reiterates its unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”
THIS IS AN UPDATE OF NEWS. The previous history of the AP is given below.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized the independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and paved the way for military support – a direct challenge to the West that will fuel fears that Russia could inevitably invade Ukraine.
A carefully organized move announced by the Kremlin could lead to new sanctions against Russia and is not at odds with Europe’s efforts to diplomatically resolve the escalating crisis, which has brought East-West relations to a new low and jeopardized trade. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom called it a “violation of international law.”
This comes amid a surge in clashes in the eastern regions that Western nations believe Russia could use as a pretext for attacking a Western-looking democracy that has challenged Moscow’s attempts to return it to its orbit.
Putin justified his decision in a far-reaching, pre-recorded speech accusing NATO of the current crisis and calling the US-led alliance an existential threat to Russia. Covering more than a century of history, he portrayed today’s Ukraine as a modern construct inextricably linked to Russia. He accused that Ukraine inherited the historic lands of Russia and after the collapse of the Soviet Union was used by the West to deter Russia.
Ukrainians saw the move as pointless, but it remains a fundamental blow to their country eight years after fighting broke out in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces.
After his speech, Putin signed decrees in the Kremlin recognizing the independence of these regions and called on lawmakers to adopt measures that pave the way for military support.
Until now, Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the separatists, but Moscow has denied this, saying the Russians who fought there were volunteers.
European leaders have called on Putin not to recognize regional independence, and the EU’s foreign policy chief has threatened possible sanctions if he does. The President of Ukraine convened an emergency meeting of senior security officials.
According to the Kremlin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “disappointment with this development”, but also “readiness to continue contacts.”
At a previous meeting of Putin’s Security Council, a stream of senior Russian officials called for recognition of the independence of the separatist regions. At one point, one waved and said he was in favor of including them in Russian territory, but Putin quickly corrected him.
Approximately 150,000 Russian troops gathered on three sides of Ukraine warn that Moscow has already decided to invade. However, the American and Russian presidents had previously agreed to a possible meeting in a last-ditch attempt to avoid war.
If Russia joins, the meeting will be suspended, but the prospect of a personal summit has revived hopes that diplomacy could prevent a devastating conflict that will lead to mass casualties and enormous economic damage across Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Joseph Barrel said that “if there is recognition, I will put sanctions on the table and EU (EU) ministers decide whether to agree to their introduction.”
As diplomatic efforts progressed, potential moments increased. Prolonged shelling continued in eastern Ukraine on Monday. Unusually, Russia said it had repulsed an “invasion” from Ukraine that Ukrainian officials had denied. And Russia has decided to extend military exercises in Belarus, which could become a platform for an attack on the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Earlier on Monday, leaders of separatist regions televised statements asking Putin to recognize them and sign agreements to provide military assistance to protect them from what they described as a continuation of Ukraine’s military offensive. The lower house of the Russian parliament made the same demand last week.
Ukrainian authorities deny launching an offensive and accuse Russia of provocation.
Putin’s announcement destroys a peace deal signed in Minsk in 2015, which requires Ukrainian authorities to offer rebellious regions broad self-government, which has been a major diplomatic coup for Moscow.
The deal outraged many in Ukraine, who saw it as capitulation, a blow to the country’s integrity and a betrayal of national interests. Putin and other officials on Monday claimed that Ukrainian authorities had shown no appetite for its implementation.
In connection with the approaching war, French President Emmanuel Macron has planned to organize a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Putin, who denies that he plans to attack Ukraine.
Russia says it wants assurances from the West that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members – and Putin said Monday that a simple moratorium on Ukraine’s accession would not be enough. Moscow has also demanded that the alliance stop deploying weapons in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe, demands that the West has categorically rejected.
Macron’s office said the two leaders had “adopted the principle of such a summit”, followed by a broader meeting of other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe”.
They say Moscow and Washington were more cautious, but neither side denied that the meeting was being discussed.
During a meeting in the Kremlin, several top officials were skeptical about a possible summit, saying it was unlikely to lead to results.
Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration has always been ready to talk to prevent war, but was also ready to respond to any attack.
“So when President Macron asked President Biden yesterday if he was prepared to meet with President Putin if Russia did not invade, President Biden certainly said yes,” he told NBC Today on Monday. “But all the signs we see on the ground in terms of the location of Russian troops are that they are actually preparing for a major attack on Ukraine.”
Since Thursday, shelling has intensified along a tense line of contact separating Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial center, Donbas. More than 14,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine and separatist insurgents have exchanged responsibility for mass violations of the ceasefire: hundreds of explosions are recorded daily.
While Russian-backed separatists have accused Ukrainian forces of shelling residential areas, Associated Press reporters from several towns and villages in the Ukrainian-dominated territory along the line of contact did not notice a noticeable escalation from Ukrainian hand and documented signs of intensified shelling by separatists who destroyed houses and tore roads.
Some residents of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk described sporadic shelling by Ukrainian forces, but they added that they were not on the same scale as before during the conflict.
On Monday, separatist authorities said that Ukrainian shelling had killed at least four civilians and injured several more in recent days. The Ukrainian military said two Ukrainian servicemen were killed last weekend and another was wounded on Monday.
Spokesman for the Ukrainian military Pavlo Kovalchuk insisted that Ukrainian forces did not respond to the fire.
In the village of Navagnatovka on the government-controlled side of Ukraine, 60-year-old Ekaterina Yevseyeva said the shelling was worse than in the midst of fighting at the beginning of the conflict.
“We are on the verge of nervous breakdowns. And there’s nowhere to run, ”she said in a trembling voice.
As another alarming sign, the Russian military said it had killed five suspected “saboteurs” who had crossed from Ukraine to Russia’s Rostov region, destroyed two armored vehicles and captured a Ukrainian serviceman. Spokesman for the Ukrainian Border Guard Service Andrei Demchenko dismissed the statement as “misinformation.”
Amid heightened fears of an invasion, the US administration sent a letter to the UN human rights leadership claiming that Moscow had compiled a list of Ukrainians who would be killed or sent to camps after the invasion. The letter, first reported by the New York Times, was received by the AP.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the statement was a lie and no such list existed.
Karmanov reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Cook from Brussels. Lori Hinnant in Kiev; Angela Charlton in Paris; Zick Miller and Aamer Madhani in Munich, Germany; Geir Mulson in Berlin; and Ellen Nickmaier, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.
Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis of the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine