EU scrambles to respond to Putin’s full-blown war – emergency summit TONIGHT

Ukraine: Protesters chant outside Russian embassy in London

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European Union leaders will discuss a further sanctions package on Russia at an emergency meeting later today, the EU said in a statement. “European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will outline a further sanctions package being finalised by the European Commission and which the Council will swiftly adopt,” the statement said.

These “further restrictive measures … will impose massive and severe consequences on Russia for its action,” it added.

In a joint statement with European Council President Charles Michel, Ms von der Leyen said the EU will hold Moscow “accountable”.

She said: “In these dark hours, our thoughts are with Ukraine and the innocent women, men and children as they face this unprovoked attack and fear for their lives.

“We will hold the Kremlin accountable.”

President Vladimir Putin authorised “a special military operation” against Ukraine on Thursday morning to eliminate what he called a serious threat, saying his aim was to demilitarise Russia’s southern neighbour.

Responding to the early morning attack, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Moscow to end military actions immediately.

He tweeted: “To the Ukrainian people, to President Zelensky, this evening, I reiterate our support, our attachment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. In economic and financial matters, in terms of defensive equipment, France will continue to provide its support.

“France strongly condemns Russia’s decision to wage war on Ukraine. Russia must end its military operations immediately.

“France stands in solidarity with Ukraine. It stands with the Ukrainians and works with its partners and allies to end the war.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also condemned President Putin’s decision.

He said: “The Russian attack on Ukraine is a blatant breach of international law.

“It cannot be justified by anything. Germany condemns this reckless act by President Putin in the strongest possible terms.”

He said Germany’s solidarity was with Ukraine and its people.

“Russia must stop this military action immediately,” the German leader demanded.

The German government now wants to coordinate closely within the framework of the G7, NATO and the EU.

“This is a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe,” Mr Scholz declared.

Echoing Mr Scholz’s comments, Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the Russian attack on Ukraine is a “disgrace”.

She added: “With its attack on Ukraine, Russia is breaking the most elementary rules of the international order.”

Germany’s defence minister also said it was never too late for dialogue with Russia while underscoring that NATO and the European Union stood united in the face of Moscow’s “drastic breach of international law”.

“This is especially true now, of course, for our allies on the eastern flank of the alliance, who can rely on our full support,” Christine Lambrecht said in a statement.

She appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops immediately and said Russia should prepare for harsh, unprecedented sanctions.

EU leaders are expected to discuss a stronger package of sanctions, including pushing Russia out of the international SWIFT payments system.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged European and western allies to provide his country with weapons, financial assistance and humanitarian aid as soon as possible.

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Shortly after Putin spoke in a televised address on Russian state TV, explosions could be heard in the pre-dawn quiet of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

Gunfire rattled near the capital’s main airport, the Interfax news agency said, and sirens were heard over the city.

Mr Kuleba said: “Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes.

“This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

Russia has demanded an end to NATO’s eastward expansion and Putin repeated his position that Ukrainian membership of the US-led Atlantic military alliance was unacceptable.

He said he had authorised military action after Russia had been left with no choice but to defend itself against what he said were threats emanating from modern Ukraine, a democratic state of 44 million people.

“Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of modern Ukraine,” President Putin said.

He added: “All responsibility for bloodshed will be on the conscience of the ruling regime in Ukraine.”

The full scope of the Russian military operation was not immediately clear but Putin said: “Our plans do not include the occupation of Ukrainian territories. We are not going to impose anything by force.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg

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