Canada, the United States and other NATO allies are promising new economic sanctions on Russia after President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian troops to “maintain the peace” there.
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Monday night at the request of Ukraine, the U.S. and six other countries, where virtually all members condemned Putin’s move and Russia’s recent aggressions.
No immediate actions were taken by the council, on which Russia currently holds the revolving-door presidency.
Ahead of the meeting, several Western nations said they are preparing sanctions that are separate from those that have been promised if the Russian military invades Ukraine.
“Canada, with its partners and allies, will react firmly to this blatant disregard for international law,” Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said in a statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed Joly in his own statement, adding Canada “reject(s) and condemn(s) Russian decrees ordering military forces into Ukraine.”
On Tuesday, Joly said G7 foreign ministers met “to discuss Russia’s blatant disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty” and were “united” in their support for the country, vowing to impose sanctions against Russia.
Joly said she has discussed coordinated sanctions with her European Union counterpart, Josep Borrell Fontelles. She also discussed Canada’s response with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also promised sanctions in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which are expected to be announced and imposed on Tuesday.
“The Prime Minister told President Zelenskiy that he believed an invasion was a real possibility in the coming hours and days,” Johnson’s office said in a statement following a call between the leaders.
U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order that will prohibit economic activity between U.S. individuals and the two breakaway regions Putin recognized, Donetsk and Luhansk.
The order will “also provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Psaki said additional measures would come on Tuesday. Those, according to another White House spokesperson, would be directed at Russia.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also criticized Russia for violating Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and said his country will discuss possible “severe actions” including sanctions with the international community.
Details remain slim on exactly what the new sanctions could look like. The White House said Biden is looking at a coordinated response after speaking with allies.
Putin justified his decision in a pre-recorded speech blaming NATO for the current crisis and calling the U.S.-led alliance an existential threat to Russia. Sweeping through more than a century of history, he painted today’s Ukraine as a modern construct that is inextricably linked to Russia. He charged that Ukraine had inherited Russia’s historic lands and after the Soviet collapse was used by the West to contain Russia.
“I consider it necessary to take a long-overdue decision: To immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said.
Afterward, he signed decrees recognizing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions’ independence, eight years after fighting erupted between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, and called on lawmakers to approve measures paving the way for military support.
The so-called friendship treaties signed with the regions’ leaders gives Russia the right to build bases in the separatist regions and they, on paper, can do the same in Russia, Reuters reported.
The parties committed to defend each other and signed separate agreements on military cooperation and on recognition of each other’s borders. The treaties also say Russia and the breakaway statelets will work to integrate their economies.
After chairing a security council meeting Monday night, Zelenskiy accused Russia of violating Ukraine’s sovereign territory and said it could mean Moscow pulling the plug on the Minsk peace talks aimed at ending the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine wanted to solve the crisis through diplomacy but that his country was ready to dig in for the long haul.
“We are committed to the peaceful and diplomatic path, we will follow it and only it,” Zelenskiy said. “But we are on our own land, we are not afraid of anything and anybody, we owe nothing to no one, and we will give nothing to no one.”
U.N. members slam Russia's move
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement he was “greatly concerned” about Russia’s actions, which he considers a violation of the U.N. Charter. He cancelled a trip to Africa and is expected to return to New York on Tuesday, a spokesperson said.
Ukrainian U.N. Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said in a letter to his Russian counterpart that Kyiv was requesting Monday night’s urgent meeting because Putin’s actions violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and multiple U.N. resolutions, including the Charter.
Russia’s representative Vasily Nebenzya concluded the meeting after members spoke. It was virtually certain the council will not take any action or issue any statement because Russia has veto power.
Members at Monday’s meeting still urged the council to send a message as one by one, they condemned Russia’s recent actions.
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo said that “the risk of major conflict is real and needs to be prevented at all costs.”
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe recorded 3,231 ceasefire violations in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine from Friday to Sunday, she said.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Russia’s claims that troops being sent to Donetsk and Luhansk were “peacekeeping” forces was “nonsense.”
“President Putin has torn the Minsk Agreement to shreds. We have been clear that we do not believe he will stop at that,” she said, referring to the agreements of 2014 and 2015 that aimed to end conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The 2015 peace agreement signed in Minsk requires Ukrainian authorities to offer broad self-rule to the rebel regions, a major diplomatic coup for Moscow.
That deal was resented by many in Ukraine who saw it as a capitulation, a blow to the country’s integrity and a betrayal of national interests. Putin and other officials argued Monday that Ukrainian authorities have shown no appetite for implementing it.
Over 14,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted in the eastern industrial heartland in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Nebenzya told the Security Council that Ukraine was to blame for the ongoing conflict and resulting bloodshed, adding that “allowing a new bloodbath in the Donbas is something we do not intend to do.”
Putin has continued to deny he plans to invade Ukraine, despite the amassing of nearly 200,000 Russian troops at the border and increasing Western intelligence reports suggesting an invasion is imminent.
Efforts by Western leaders, including Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, to find a diplomatic solution with Putin have yielded few apparent results. Russia has called for concessions from NATO that allies have said are off the table, including the rollback of its forces in Eastern Europe.
A last-minute bid for a summit between Biden and Putin appeared to fall apart following Monday’s announcement.
–With files from the Associated Press and Reuters