EU, UK Australia and other countries express outrage, plan stronger Russia sanctions

World leaders have expressed raw outrage shrouded by an impotence to immediately come to the aid of Ukraine to avoid a major war in Europe.
They condemned Russia’s attack on its neighbour as the European Union, United Kingdom and others promised unprecedented sanctions to hit the Kremlin.
NATO moved to beef up its eastern flank facing Russia and planned a virtual leaders’ summit for Friday after President Vladimir Putin warned anyone listening that any interference would “lead to consequences you have never seen in history.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, speaks during a press statement on Ukraine, at EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, Feb 24, 2022. Russian troops launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to consequences you have never seen. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

EU and NATO member Lithuania declared a state of emergency since the Baltic nation borders Russia’s Kaliningrad region to the south-west and Russia’s ally Belarus to the east.

NATO nations have 100 jets and 120 ships on high alert as deterrence.

“Make no mistake: we will defend every ally against any attack on every inch of NATO territory,” said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “barbaric attack” on an independent nation that also targeted “the stability in Europe and the whole of the international peace order.” The EU will hold an emergency summit in Brussels.

Smoke and flame rise near a military building after an apparent Russian strike in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Apparent Russian strikes hit Ukraine’s capital

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the invasion “hideous and barbaric”, while pledging “a massive package of economic sanctions to be agreed today” that would “hobble” the Russian economy.

“Our mission is clear, diplomatically, politically, economically, and eventually, militarily, this hideous, barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure,” he said.

But no one promised to move in militarily and defend Ukraine as it could touch off a major European war.

So instead, most of the world — including Australia but notably but not China — condemned and threatened to hit the Russian elites with, in the words of Ms von der Leyen, “massive and targeted sanctions.”

She will put to EU leaders late Thursday a proposal that “will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking the access to technologies and markets that are key for Russia.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen deliver a press statement on Ukraine at EU headquarters in Brussels. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool Photo via AP (AP)

She said the sanctions, if approved, “will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernise.”

“In addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets,” She said.

Like the first package of sanctions that were imposed when Russia recognised the two breakaway eastern Ukrainian republics, Ms von der Leyen said all Western powers were walking in lockstep.

“We are closely aligned with our partners and allies the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, but also, for example, Japan and Australia,” she said.

A man walks past a TV screen showing image of Russias President Vladimir Putin in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara) (AP)

Highlighting a widening rift in superpower relations, China stood alone in failing to condemn the attack and instead accused the United States and its allies of worsening the crisis.

And it put its friendship in practice Thursday by approving imports of wheat from Russia, a move that could help to reduce the impact of possible increased Western sanctions.

Russia is one of the biggest wheat producers but would be vulnerable if foreign markets block shipments.

In a clear defence of Moscow, China “called on parties to respect others’ legitimate security concerns.”

Smoke rise from an air defence base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike.
Smoke rise from an air defence base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike. (AP)

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said “all parties should work for peace instead of escalating the tension or hyping up the possibility of war”, in language China has consistently used to criticise the West in the crisis.

“Those parties who were busy condemning others, what have they done? Have they persuaded others?” Ms Hua said.

One thing was clear — weeks of diplomatic cajoling, global crisscrossing of leaders and foreign ministers, and the threat of sanctions against Putin’s inner circle had failed to dissuade the Kremlin from taking one of the most significant measures in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Overall, more sanctions appear the only option for the foreseeable future. And from South Korea to Australia to Europe, governments were lining up to oppose Putin.

People watch TV screens broadcasting the news of Russian troops that launched their attack on Ukraine, at a restaurant in Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu) (AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron, who had laboured until the last minute for a diplomatic solution, said “France firmly condemns Russia’s decision to wage war,” and promised support for Ukraine.

The turmoil from the beginning of a long-feared act of aggression rippled from Europe to Asia.

Stock markets plunged, oil prices surged, and European aviation officials warned of a high risk to civilian aircraft over Ukraine, reminding air operators that “this is now an active conflict zone.”
A screenshot made available by that shows the clear airspace over Ukraine on Thursday. ( via AP) (AP)

Russia’s attack and uncertainty about the intensity of the Western response sent stocks tumbling and oil prices surging by more than US$5 ($7.98) per barrel.

Market benchmarks in Europe and Asia fell by as much as 4 per cent, while Brent crude oil briefly jumped above US$100 ($139.70) per barrel in London for the first time since 2014 on unease about possible disruption of supplies from Russia, the No. 3 producer.

In New York, the UN Security Council held an extraordinary emergency meeting meant to dissuade Russia from sending troops into Ukraine.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ plea to “give peace a chance” came just as Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian TV to announce the military operation.

Explosions were heard in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine. Moscow had massed more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders. On Monday, Mr Putin recognised the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian forces there for what he called “peacekeeping”.

People chant, carry placards and wave Ukrainian flags as they gather in Sydney, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, to demonstrate against the attacks in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) (AP)

To avoid international civilian casualties, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said “there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft” and that “the presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a HIGH risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes.”

The attack touched all sectors of society across the globe. The director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention openly worried that global attention will now shift even further from helping the world’s least vaccinated continent respond to COVID-19.

“The conflict in Ukraine definitely will draw attention, political attention, towards that crisis,” John Nkengasong said.

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