Russia facing harsh sanctions after Putin recognises breakaway regions

An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was held after Russian president Vladimir Putin formally recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, escalating a security crisis on the continent. Photograph: Jason Szenes/EPA

The United States and its European allies are poised to announce harsh new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday after president Vladimir Putin formally recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, escalating a security crisis on the continent.

The Ukrainian military said two soldiers were killed and 12 wounded in shelling by pro-Russian separatists in the east in the past 24 hours, the most casualties this year, as ceasefire violations increased.

Mr Putin’s announcement on Monday drew international condemnation and immediate US sanctions, with president Joe Biden signing an executive order to halt US business activity in the breakaway regions, Donetsk and Luhansk.

France and Germany also agreed to respond with sanctions, and Britain and the US said they would announce further measures on Tuesday.

“This is the moment – the moment to stand up and defend the United Nations and our international order as we know it,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the United Nations, said at an emergency meeting of the Security Council late on Monday.

“We can, will, and must stand united in our calls for Russia to withdraw its forces, return to the diplomatic table and work toward peace.”

The US withdrew its remaining diplomats in Ukraine on Monday, deploying them to Poland, as Mr Putin’s move rattled markets around the world.

The UK’s ambassador, Dame Barbara Woodward, told the UN meeting: “Russia has brought us to the brink. We urge Russia to step back”, and warned that an invasion would unleash “the forces of war, death and destruction” on the people of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, appealed for strong sanctions as the only way of stalling further Russian encroachment.

Britain said it had drawn up sanctions to target those complicit in the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and those measures would come into force on Tuesday.

China called for all parties to exercise restraint while Japan said it was ready to join international sanctions on Moscow in the event of a full-scale invasion.

The Russian UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, warned Western powers to “think twice” and not worsen the situation.

Troops moving in

A Reuters witness saw tanks and other military hardware moving through the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk on Monday hours after Mr Putin formally recognised the breakaway regions and ordered the deployment of Russian forces to “keep the peace”. No insignia were visible on the vehicles.

Ukraine’s military said on its Facebook page it had recorded 84 cases of shelling by separatists who it said had opened fire on about 40 settlements along the front line with heavy artillery, in breach of ceasefire agreements.

Russia denies any plan to attack its neighbour, but it has amassed troops on Ukraine’s borders and threatened “military-technical” action unless it receives sweeping security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join Nato.

A senior US official said the deployment of Russian troops to the breakaway enclaves did not merit the harshest sanctions the US and its allies had prepared in the event of a full-scale invasion, as Russia already had troops there.

Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions – collectively known as the Donbas – broke away from Ukrainian government control in 2014 and proclaimed themselves independent “people’s republics”.

Russia needed to ratify its friendship treaties with the two breakaway regions before it could discuss matters such as the exact borders of the territories, RIA news agency reported, citing the foreign ministry. Russia’s parliament is expected to review friendship treaties on Tuesday. – Reuters, Guardian