The United States and Britain are poised to announce harsh new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin formally recognized two breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine, escalating a security crisis on the continent.
Germany has already set into motion plans to suspend approval for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany.
“I have asked the German economy ministry today to withdraw the report on the analysis of energy supply guarantees from [German regulator] Bundesnetzagentur,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a news conference in Berlin. He told reporters his government is halting the process of certifying the project in response to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
“It sounds technical, but [the report on the impact of the pipeline] is required procedure, so that there can be no certification of the pipeline now. Without this certification, Nord Stream 2 can’t become operational.”
Putin’s announcement on Monday drew international condemnation and immediate U.S. sanctions, with President Joe Biden signing an executive order to halt U.S. business activity in the breakaway regions.
France and Germany also agreed to respond with sanctions, and Britain and the United States said they would announce further measures on Tuesday.
“The United States will impose sanctions on Russia for this clear violation of international law and Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after 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.”
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.
Meanwhile, a top European Union official said Russia’s recognition of the Ukrainian separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states and its decision to send troops into the territories is an “act of war.”
Didier Reynders, the European Commissioner for Justice, said Tuesday 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.
Russia denies it plans to attack Ukraine
A Reuters witness saw tanks and other military hardware moving through the city of Donetsk on Monday hours after Putin signed a decree formally recognized 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 U.S. official said the deployment of Russian troops to the breakaway enclaves did not merit the harshest sanctions the United States 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 like the exact borders of the territories, RIA news agency reported, citing the foreign ministry.
Treaties pave the way for military bases
Russia’s parliament was expected to ratify those treaties on Tuesday, a step that could pave the way for Moscow to build military bases in the regions, adopt a joint defence posture and tighten economic integration.
An explanatory note attached to the documents says they create a “legal basis” for the arrival of Russian military units that are needed for “peacekeeping” activities.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who received a call from Biden to express solidarity on Monday, accused Russia of wrecking peace talks and ruled out territorial concessions.
Rising fears of a major war in Europe pushed oil prices to a seven-year high on Tuesday, while safe-havens currencies like the yen rallied and global stocks tumbled. The ruble extended its losses as Putin spoke, at one point sliding beyond 80 per dollar (US).
In a lengthy televised address on Monday packed with grievances against the West, a visibly angry Putin said Eastern Ukraine was ancient Russian land.
Putin delved into history as far back as the Ottoman empire and expressed frustration that Russia’s demands for a rewriting of Europe’s security arrangements had been repeatedly rebuffed.
“I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago — to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said.
Putin has for years worked to restore Russia’s influence over nations that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Ukraine holding an important place in his ambitions. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
A French presidential official said the speech “mixed various considerations of a rigid and paranoid nature.”