Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered forces 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.
The Kremlin decree, spelled out in an order signed by Putin, left unclear when, or even whether, troops would enter Ukraine. But it brought swift promises of new sanctions from the US and other Western nations and underscored the steep challenges they face in staving off a military conflict they have portrayed as near-inevitable.
In Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is holding a late-night meeting of his security council to discuss the fast-moving situation. The meeting is expected to continue into the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Ukraine’s ambassador in London said he believed the Russian “incursion has already started.” In an interview with the BBC Vadym Prystaiko said “the Russians are entering as we speak.”
The Kremlin’s Monday evening announcement came just hours after Putin, in a rambling, fact-bending discourse on European history, recognized the independence of the eastern separatist regions, paving the way to provide them military support and antagonizing Western leaders who regard such a move as an unjust breach of world order.
Britain will consider sending more military support to Ukraine
Meanwhile British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a call with President Zelenskyy on Monday evening in which he “strongly condemned” Russia’s decision to recognise the breakaway republics and said Britain might send more military support to Ukraine.
“He told President Zelenskyy that the UK had already drawn up sanctions to target those complicit in the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and that those measures would come into force tomorrow” Downing Street said in a statement.
“The Prime Minister also said he would explore sending further defensive support to Ukraine, at the request of the Ukrainian Government.”
Johnson is set to chair a high level security meeting early Tuesday morning to coordinate the UK’s response.
More criticism from the international community
Criticism of Russia’s actions continued to be heard from the international community with Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly saying her country would begin preparing sanctions in response for Putin’s recognition of the separatist regions – the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics – and warned other economic sanctions would follow if Russia invaded Ukraine.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his country “stands strong in its support for Ukraine.”
Canada is the latest country to announce a fresh round of sanctions against Russia, after the European Union and United States.
In a joint statement on Monday evening, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel said the recognition was “a blatant violation of international law” and promised to impose more sanctions against those involved in Russia’s recognition of the two separatist regions.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden “will soon issue an Executive Order that will prohibit new investment, trade, and financing” in the regions, or on anyone “determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine.” She said those measures would be separate from tougher sanctions the US is preparing in case of a Russian invasion.