The Latest: EU ministers to decide on Russian sanctions

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The Latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis (all times local):

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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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PARIS: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned in forceful terms on Tuesday the move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize breakaway republics in Ukraine as a violation of international law and the Minsk peace agreement with Ukraine.

“Obviously, we will take the initiative to impose sanctions,” he said, adding that EU foreign ministers will meet “to examine together what measures to take.”

The 27-nation EU has said it would impose sanctions against Russia in case of an invasion of Ukraine.

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BRUSSELS — A top European Union official says Russia’s recognition of the Ukrainian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and to send troops into the territories is an “act of war.”

Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for Justice, said the 27-nation bloc is ready to implement sanctions against Russia.

Speaking to Belgian broadcaster RTBF, Reynders said a unanimous accord from EU member countries is needed for new sanctions to be imposed.

He said the anticipated measures would evolve gradually, depending on Russian actions. The first types would be travel bans against individuals and sanctions against economic entities via the seizing of assets in Europe and abroad.

In addition, Reynders said “it will be necessary to ensure that there are no more imports of goods or services from Russia, such as energy, and that Russia’s global access to financial services is terminated.”

“Everything is on the table,” he said, adding member states were discussing how gradual the moves would be and the possibility for diplomacy to ease the conflict.

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LONDON — A British Cabinet minister says a Russian invasion of Ukraine has begun, and the U.K. will respond with sanctions later Tuesday.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Russian President Vladimir Putin “has sent in tanks and troops” to two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine he recognized on Monday.

Javid told Sky News that “we are waking up to a very dark day in Europe and it’s clear from what we have already seen and found out today that the Russians, President Putin, has decided to attack the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity.”

“We have seen that he has recognized these breakaway eastern regions in Ukraine and from the reports we can already tell that he has sent in tanks and troops. From that you can conclude that the invasion of Ukraine has begun.”

He said Prime Minister Boris Johnson would address Parliament later about new sanctions on Russia. The U.K. government says it is coordinating its response with the European Union.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Nordic leaders condemned Russia’s decision to recognize the Ukrainian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, saying Tuesday that Moscow had violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde called it “a blatant violation of international law.”

Denmark Foreign Minister Jepp Kofod called the Russian move “harmful” and said the Scandinavian nation urged Moscow to “stop its breach of international law.”

In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto said the country would respond in unison with the European Union, of which it is a member. Non-EU member Norway said the Russian decision “directly contradicts the spirit and the letter of the Minsk agreements.”

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SINGAPORE — Singapore said Tuesday it is “gravely concerned” about the escalation of tensions on the border between Ukraine and Russia and the “Russian decision to recognize two breakaway Ukrainian regions.”

“The sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine must be respected,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It added that the dispute should be settled through talks and diplomacy in “accordance with international law, and avoid action that will further raise tensions in the region.”

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ATHENS, Greece — Greece on Tuesday strongly condemned Moscow’s recognition of two separatist republics in Ukraine, as the country’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, called an emergency meeting of top government defense and foreign policy officials to discuss the crisis.

“Russia’s recognition of the illegal and unilateral declaration of ‘independence’ of the separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine is a clear violation of fundamental principles of international law, Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and the Minsk agreements,” a Foreign Ministry statement said. “We have repeatedly stressed that Greece is in favor of respect for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of all states and condemns any decision that is contrary to these fundamental principles of international law.”

NATO-member Greece has traditionally friendly ties with Russia.

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UNITED NATIONS — Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador is demanding that Russia cancel its recognition of the independence of separatist regions in the east, immediately withdraw its “occupation troops” sent there by President Vladimir Putin, and return to negotiations.

Sergiy Kyslytsya told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday that Ukraine called the rare evening session to protest and condemn Putin’s “illegal and illegitimate” decision to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He said Ukraine's borders "will remain unchangeable regardless of any statements and actions by the Russian Federation.”

He said Russia’s occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk ruin negotiating frameworks and “may be considered” as Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from the Minsk Agreements aimed at restoring peace to eastern Ukraine.

“We are committed to a political diplomatic settlement and do not succumb to provocations,” Kyslytsya said.

While Ukraine has the right to self-defense, he said, “We are committed to a peaceful and diplomatic path and we will stay firmly on it. We are on our land. We are not afraid of anything or anyone. We owe nothing to anyone, and we will not give away anything to anyone.”

Kyslytsya urged the Security Council to support Ukraine and take action to restore international peace and security, but that will be virtually impossible because of Russia’s veto power in the council.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey criticized Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, describing the move as a “clear violation of Ukraine’s political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement early Tuesday said: “we find this decision by Russia unacceptable and reject it.”

“We emphasize our commitment to the preservation of Ukraine’s political unity and territorial integrity, and call on all parties to use common sense and comply with international law,” the ministry statement read.

NATO-member Turkey has close relations to both Ukraine and Russia and had repeatedly offered to mediate to end the tensions.

Separately, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement to “strongly recommend” that Turkish citizens leave Ukraine’s eastern regions.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea’s Foreign Ministry says it has grave concerns over the Ukraine crisis and called for related nations to respect the Minsk agreement while finding a diplomatic solution.

Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam also said Tuesday that diplomats were still trying to persuade 63 South Koreans in Ukraine to leave. There were around 600 South Koreans in Ukraine at the end of January.

“Our government has consistently supported Ukraine’s sovereignty and the preservation of its territory,” Choi said.

President Moon Jae-in earlier called for officials to prepare for an economic fallout in South Korea if the Ukraine crisis is prolonged.

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UNITED NATIONS — Russia’s U.N. ambassador has accused the United States and its Western allies of egging Ukraine toward “an armed provocation.”

Speaking at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday night, Vassily Nebenzia accused Ukraine of sharply increasing shelling in residential areas of the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions and in Russian towns and villages near the border.

He said Ukraine has concentrated a 120,000-strong military contingent along the contact line with pro-Russian separatists in the east and “subversive groups” have penetrated or tried to penetrate the territory known as the Donbas to sabotage critical infrastructure.

“So it has become clear that Donbas is on the brink of a new Ukrainian military adventure as was already the case in 2014 and 2015,” he said.

Nebenzia said that’s why President Vladimir Putin announced earlier Monday that Russia will recognize Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and is putting Russian troops into the two states as peacekeepers.

The separatist authorities said Monday that at least four civilians were killed by Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours, and several others were wounded. Ukraine’s military said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the weekend, and another serviceman was wounded Monday. Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk insisted that Ukrainian forces weren’t returning fire.

Nebenzia said Russia was open to diplomacy but wouldn't allow “a new bloodbath in the Donbas,” urging the United States and other Western nations to not worsen the situation.

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UNITED NATIONS — China has called for restraint and is encouraging every effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, saying Beijing believes all countries should solve disputes by peaceful means in line with the U.N. Charter.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun called on the key parties in the Ukraine dispute “to continue dialogue and consultation and seek reasonable solutions."

Zhang gave very brief remarks at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday night called by Ukraine, the U.S. and six other countries following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia will recognize the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine as independent states and is putting Russian troops into Luhansk and Donetsk as peacekeepers.

The Chinese ambassador made no mention of actions on Monday by its usual ally, Russia, saying only that “all parties concerned must exercise restraint, and avoid any action that may fuel tensions,” and to “welcome and encourage every effort for a diplomatic solution.”

Chinese state media is reporting that China’s Embassy in Kyiv notified its citizens in Ukraine to heighten their safety awareness and avoid conflict areas.

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TOKYO — Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida criticized Russia for violating Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and said his country will discuss possible “severe actions” including sanctions with the international community.

Kishida was responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s signing Monday of decree recognizing the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, ordering his troops to “maintain peace” in those areas. Putin’s announcement raised fears of an imminent invasion.

“Those actions are unacceptable, and we express our strong condemnation,” Kishida told reporters Tuesday. “Japan is watching the development with grave concern.”

Separately, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said Tuesday it was important that Group of Seven nations that share values such as democracy and rule of law stick together and lead the international community.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has dismissed “as nonsense” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he is putting Russian troops in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine as peacekeepers, saying their presence is “clearly the basis for Russia’s attempt to create a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday night that this move and Putin’s earlier announcement that Russia will recognize the separatist areas as “independent states” are also an “unprovoked” attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. By his actions, she said, Putin “has torn the Minsk Agreement to shreds.”

Thomas-Greenfield said Putin “has put before the world a choice” and it “must not look away” because “history tells us that looking the other way in the face of such hostility will be a far more costly path.”

She said Putin is testing to see “how far he can push us all,” and all countries must stand up for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries.

Thomas-Greenfield warned that “the consequences of Russia’s actions will be dire — across Ukraine, across Europe, and across the globe.”

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said there was no basis under international law for recognizing the separatist regions, and that by doing so Russia was further undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

“We are concerned that this is a calculated act by President Putin to create a pretext for invasion, which would be a clear act of aggression. We again call for urgent diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution,” Mahuta said in a statement.

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TRIABUNNA, Australia — Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Russia should “unconditionally withdraw” from Ukrainian territory and cease to threaten its neighbors.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered forces Monday to “maintain peace” in separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, hours after the Kremlin recognized the area’s independence. The announcement raised fears that an invasion was imminent, if not already underway.

Morrison at a news conference Tuesday in Australia's Tasmania state said Russia’s actions were “unacceptable, it’s unprovoked, it’s unwarranted.”

“It is important that like-minded countries who denounce this sort of behavior do stick together and I can assure you that the moment that other countries put in place strong and severe sanctions on Russia, we will be in lockstep with them,” he said.