Ukraine imposes emergency; West expands Russia sanctions

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KYIV (REUTERS, AFP, NYTIMES) - Ukraine was bracing for a potential Russian invasion on Wednesday (Feb 23) as it declared a 30-day state of emergency and mobilised military reservists. 

The moves came after Russian President Vladimir Putin stood firm on his decision to send more troops into eastern Ukraine and recognise its two separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states despite widespread condemnation and a growing list of Western sanctions

 The Ukrainian Parliament on Wednesday approved the declaration of a state of emergency which can be extended for a further 30 days.

“These are preventive measures to keep calm in the country, so that our economy and our country can work,” defence council chief Oleksiy Danilov said. 

Imposing a state of emergency gives powers to the authorities, who can choose which ones to implement. These could include curfews, restrictions on transport, extra protection for critical infrastructure, and a ban on strikes. 

The state border guards service said new measures had been introduced regarding the stay of foreigners near the border zone, the use of radios, flights of drones, and the filming and photographing of certain people and buildings. 

The state of emergency applies to all of Ukraine except Donetsk and Luhansk, where it has been in place since 2014 when Russian-backed fighters came to control parts of those regions. 

Russia this week recognised the independence of the two areas, weeks after expressing frustration that the West has repeatedly rebuffed its demands for a rewriting of Europe’s security arrangements. 

Moscow’s demands include a guarantee that Ukraine will never join Nato, and that the alliance roll back its military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. But Western leaders say the Kremlin cannot be allowed an effective veto on Kyiv’s foreign policy decisions. 

Mr Putin, in a video released on a Russian holiday celebrating its armed forces on Wednesday, said Moscow was always open to diplomacy but that “the interests of Russia and the security of our citizens are unconditional for us”. 

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Australia, Canada and Japan, meanwhile, joined the United States and other nations in announcing sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine. 

The European Union’s sanctions added all members of Russia’s lower house of Parliament who voted to recognise the separatist regions to a blacklist, freezing their assets and banning travel. 

Britain followed the US in banning Russia from the issuing of new bonds in its security markets. 

Japan also imposed sanctions on individuals linked to Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as a ban on the issuing and trade of Russian government bonds in Japan. 

But none of the measures announced so far directly targets Mr Putin himself, or is expected to have severe medium-term consequences for Moscow, which has more than US$630 billion (S$847 billion) in international reserves. 

The Biden administration and European allies have warned that the current sanctions are only the beginning

Tougher penalties will come “if Russia goes further with this invasion”, US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday. 

But Kremlin officials have responded scornfully to the moves, with Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Mr Anatoly Antonov, saying that sanctions would hurt global financial and energy markets, creating pain for Americans as well. 

Russia would not “revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions”, he said. 

“I don’t remember a single day when our country lived without any restrictions from the Western world,” Mr Antonov said. “We have learned to work in such conditions. And not only to survive, but also to develop our state.” 

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