World leaders condemn Russia's recognition of breakaway Ukraine regions

People demonstrating at the "Solidary with Ukraine" protest at the Freedom Square in Poznan, Poland, on Feb 21, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BERLIN/PARIS (AFP/REUTERS) - Western powers reacted swiftly to Monday's (Feb 21) decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognise the independence of the two self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine, condemning Moscow and calling for sanctions.

Germany, France and the United States have agreed to respond to the Russian move, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's spokesman said in a statement on Monday.

The spokesman did not say what sanctions the western allies would impose on Russia. He said Scholz had spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden after an earlier speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The partners were united in their determination not to ease up their commitment to Ukraine's territorial integrity," Scholz's spokesman said in a statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who was still pressing for a diplomatic settlement earlier on Monday, called for targeted European Union sanctions against Moscow.

"He is demanding an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council as well as the adoption of targeted European sanctions," said a statement from his office.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also denounced Putin's decision as "a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of the Ukraine".

A "very robust package of sanctions" would be triggered "with the first toecap of a Russian incursion or Russian invasion", he added.

The United States has already announced financial sanctions against the rebel territories freshly recognised by Russia in eastern Ukraine and warned that more are ready if necessary.

Turkey described as "unacceptable" Russia's recognition of the breakaway regions, calling it a violation of international agreements and Ukraine's territorial integrity.

"The decision of Russia to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk Republics amounts to a clear violation of not only the Minsk agreements, but also Ukraine's political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We find Russia's so-called decision to be unacceptable and reject it," Turkey's foreign ministry said.

Japan’s government is considering joining the United States and its allies in slapping sanctions against Russia, such as halting semiconductor exports, if it invades Ukraine, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Tuesday (Feb 22).

Japan is also weighing imposing financial sanctions against Russia, the newspaper said.

There has been a similar reaction from Australia, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his country will be in lockstep with allies on sanctions on Russia.

Russia should unconditionally move its troops behind its own borders and stop threatening its neighbours, Morrison said during a media briefing.

“It’s unacceptable, it’s unprovoked, it’s unwarranted ... some suggestion that they are peacekeeping is nonsense,” Morrison said.

At the UN, chief Antonio Guterres said Russia's decision amounted to "a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations".

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said Putin's decision "further undermines Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk Agreements, to which Russia is a party".

"Moscow continues to fuel the conflict in eastern Ukraine by providing financial and military support to the separatists. It is also trying to stage a pretext to invade Ukraine once again," he added.

Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the European Union's two most senior figures, posted identical statements on Twitter.

Condemning Putin's move as "a blatant violation of international law", they added: "The EU and its partners will react with unity, firmness and with determination in solidarity with Ukraine."

Elsewhere, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said there are fears that the Ukraine crisis "could spread in other parts of Europe and the world, especially on the Western Balkans".

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