EU sets out plans for sanctions against Russia

BRUSSELS — Top European Union officials say the bloc is set to impose sanctions on several Russian officials as well as banks financing the Russian armed forces. It also intends to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.

A statement Tuesday said the move would “target those who were involved in the illegal decision” to recognize two rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. It didn’t identify them.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel said it would also “target trade from the two breakaway regions to and from the EU.”

They said the restrictive measures would aim to limit “the ability of the Russian state and government to access the EU’s capital and financial markets and services, to limit the financing of escalatory and aggressive policies.”

EU foreign ministers are meeting later Tuesday to discuss the measures. The two leaders said that “the EU has prepared and stands ready to adopt additional measures at a later stage if needed in the light of further developments.”

BELVOIR CASTLE, England — Latvia’s defense minister has urged world leaders to act now to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine, arguing that sanctions must be swift and punishing or it would be too late to protect international security.

Defense Minister Artis Pabriks told The Associated Press on Tuesday that it was time for European countries and their allies to impose sanctions on Russia.

He said that “if we do fail to stop Mr. Putin now — to stop his aggression — and if we are not managing to force him to de-escalate now, then our global values will decrease and everybody will think that they can play around with the Europeans — they can play around also with Americans.”

HELSINKI — Finland’s president says that, despite Russia’s actions in Ukraine, he hasn’t seen an increase in Russian military activity in the Baltic Sea, where many countries are suspicious of Moscow’s intentions.

President Sauli Niinisto said Tuesday that “strangely enough, situation in the entire Baltic Sea area seems very calm and the number of Russian military equipment dispatched in the area is on the decline.”

He said he doesn’t currently see Finland, which is a member of the European Union but not NATO, facing a military threat from Russia. The two countries share a long border. But he stressed that Finland will pay close attention to Moscow’s future actions outside Ukraine.

Niinisto said he didn’t know why Russian has “now simply decided to settle the Ukraine situation that has been going on for some seven, eight years.”

He said one reason may be Russia has noticed “that Ukraine has been strengthening year-by-year and is continuing to do so.”

BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Russian President Vladimir Putin may be looking for a pretext to occupy the whole of Ukraine.

Scholz said Tuesday that his and other countries made clear at a U.N. Security Council meeting that Moscow “has no support in the world” for its decision to recognize the independence of rebel-held regions in eastern Ukraine.

He said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “deserves our highest respect for his country not letting itself be provoked by Russia, because the Russian president is waiting for just that to have a pretext possibly to occupy all of Ukraine.”

Scholz made the comment during an appearance in Berlin at which he announced the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

BERLIN — Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany has taken steps to halt the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.

Scholz told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that his government was taking the measure in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The pipeline bringing natural gas from Russia to Germany has long been criticized by the United States and some European countries who argue that it increases Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies.

Scholz said that the government had decided to “reassess” the certification of the pipeline, which hasn’t begun operating yet.

“That will certainly take time, if I may say so,” he said.

MOSCOW — Russia says its recognition of independence for areas in eastern Ukraine extends to territory currently held by Ukrainian forces.

The statement Tuesday further raises the stakes amid Western fears that Moscow could follow up on Monday’s recognition of rebel regions with a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia has recognized the rebel regions’ independence “in borders that existed when they proclaimed” their independence in 2014.

Ukrainian forces later reclaimed control of large part of both regions during a nearly eight-year conflict that has killed over 14,000 people.

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s foreign minister has praised Russia’s recognition of the independence of rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, describing it as a step “toward defending world peace.”

Faisal Mekdad spoke during a visit to Moscow. He said that “we have been cooperating with the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk for a long time, and we believe that these current conditions will help increase this cooperation,” Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.

Also Tuesday, President Bashar Assad’s office released a statement saying that the Syrian president received in December a delegation of Russian legislators, including representatives from the Donetsk region, and told them at the time that Damascus “is ready to recognize the Republic of Donetsk and an agreement was reached to start relations with it.”

Russia has been a main backer of Assad’s government during the Arab country’s decade-old conflict. Russian military intervention since September 2015 has helped tip the balance of power in Assad’s favor.

BELGRADE, Serbia – Most of the leaders in the war-scarred Balkans condemned Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, while Serbia’s president said he fears pressure to join Western sanctions against his Kremlin allies.

″There are now many challenges (for Serbia) of political, security and economic nature,” Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said. “The political pressures will be greater than ever.”

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who led the small Adriatic state to NATO membership in 2017 despite strong opposition from Russia, gave his support to Ukraine.

“Montenegro confirms its unanimous support of the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” said Djukanovic.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic also slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision, as did Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa.

ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s government says it is drawing up plans to assist some 100,000 ethnic Greeks who live in eastern Ukraine.

Andreas Katsaniotis, a deputy foreign minister for Greek communities abroad, said consular services had been enhanced in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, where the ethnic Greek community is based.

Plans to assist members of that community were the subject of an emergency meeting convened Tuesday by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with top defense, energy and foreign policy officials. Asked if there was a plan to evacuate ethnic Greeks from the region, Katsaniotis told state television: “Of course, but we still haven’t reached that situation.”

VIENNA — Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer says his country has summoned the Russian ambassador to protest Moscow’s breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Nehammer said Austria supports the EU’s approach of imposing sanctions against Russia step by step, starting with a formal decision Tuesday afternoon by the bloc’s foreign ministers.

“There is a variety of sanctions options that now need to be used in a targeted way because we have to assume that we haven’t yet reached the peak of the escalation,” he told reporters in Vienna.

Nehammer also assured Austrians that even if Russia were to stop delivering natural gas immediately, “the energy supply is secure.”

Authorities in Vienna are also stepping up surveillance of potential cyberthreats to Austrian government institutions. The country’s foreign ministry was targeted in a cyberattack two years ago that was traced to Russia.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine is “unacceptable” and is calling for a respect of international laws.

Speaking to Turkish journalists during a three-nation tour of Africa, Erdogan said the decision was a clear violation of Ukraine’s political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“We consider this decision by Russia as being unacceptable,” Erdogan said. “We reiterate our call to the parties to respect common sense and international law.”

His comments were reported by Hurriyet newspaper and other media.

BELVOIR CASTLE, England — U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has warned of worrying signs that Russia has begun to move forces into Ukraine as he opened a conference of defense ministers from Baltic and North Atlantic states.

Wallace issued the warning to a meeting of defense ministers from the nations of the Joint Expeditionary Force on Tuesday in Leicestershire, England, though he said reports of military equipment moving into Ukraine’s Donbas region would need to be verified.

“Many of us were forewarning that President Putin already had an agenda – you heard that agenda in his speech last night,’ Wallace said, referring to Putin’s decision to recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. “This is a sovereign state which has now had some of its land effectively annexed from it.”

SANAA, Yemen — Yemen’s Houthi rebels have welcomed Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in southeast Ukraine.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of the rebels’ Supreme Revolutionary Committees, said late Monday that the Iranian-backed Houthis support the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics. He called for restraint to avoid sliding into a war.

The Houthis have been in war against a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, months after the rebels overran Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and ousted the internationally recognized government.

HELSINKI — The Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have strongly condemned Russia’s decision to recognize the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states.

Estonian President Alar Karis said that “Russia tore the Minsk agreements into pieces,” referring to a 2015 peace deal. He said ”this shows that Moscow’s aim is to deepen the conflict, not to solve it.”

In Baltic neighbor Latvia, President Egils Levits, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins and the country’s Parliament released a joint statement condemning Moscow’s actions.

The statement said that “in a gross violation of international law, under a fabricated pretext, and by spreading false information, Russia seeks to induce a change in Ukraine’s political leadership and foreign policy course by violent means.”

Lithuania Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte tweeted that Russia President Vladimir “Putin just put Kafka & Orwell to shame: no limits to dictator’s imagination, no lows too low, no lies too blatant, no red lines too red to cross.”

She added: “What we witnessed (Monday evening) might seem surreal for democratic world. But the way we respond will define us for the generations to come.”

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BRUSSELS — European Union foreign ministers will meet Tuesday to decide what sanctions to impose over Russia’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in southeast Ukraine, the EU’s top diplomat said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the meeting in Paris “will take the political decisions vis-à-vis the European response.”

“Clearly, that response will be in the form of sanctions,” Borrell said. He said the aim is not to impose the whole range of sanctions that the EU has prepared should Russian invade Ukraine, but rather to address the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent.

Asked whether Russia’s decision to send “peacekeepers” in already amounts to an invasion, Borrell said, “I wouldn’t say that’s a fully fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”

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LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the U.K. will introduce “immediate” economic sanctions against Russia, and warned that President Vladimir Putin is bent on “a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”

Johnson said Putin had “completely torn up international law” and British sanctions would target not just the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk but “Russian economic interests as hard as we can.”

Johnson is to set out further details of the sanctions in the House of Commons later Tuesday.

He told broadcasters that this would be “just the first barrage of U.K. economic sanctions against Russia because we expect, I’m afraid, that there is more Russian irrational behavior to come.”

“I’m afraid all the evidence is that President Putin is indeed bent on a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, the overrunning, the subjugation of an independent, sovereign European country and I think, let’s be absolutely clear, that would be absolutely catastrophic.”

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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