Russia-Ukraine: What to know about Europe’s security crisis

Mike Corder
Associated Press

The Hague, Netherlands — From a hastily convened meeting of the United Nations Security Council to capitals around the world, leaders have condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of two pro-Russia regions in eastern Ukraine as independent and his order to send troops there. The U.S., European Union and U.K. announced tough economic sanctions, warning more would follow if Putin proceeds further.

Governments also warned of a global fallout from the crisis over Ukraine, which was evident Tuesday as oil prices rose, stock markets fell.

More: The latest on the developing conflict between Ukraine and Russia

Top things to know Tuesday about the conflict over Ukraine and the security crisis in Eastern Europe:

An initial response

President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, in Washington.

President Joe Biden announced the U.S. was ordering heavy financial sanctions against Russia, declaring that Moscow had flagrantly violated international law in what he called the “beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Biden said more sanctions would be on the way if Putin proceeds further. This initial round includes cutting off two large Russian financial institutions from the U.S. financial system. The new sanctions also target Russia’s sovereign debt as well as five elite individuals close to Putin.

The U.S. president also said he was moving additional U.S. troops to the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia.

The European Union and U.K. also announced their own initial sanctions targeting Russian officials over their actions in Ukraine.

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What's happening on the ground in eastern Ukraine?

Convoys of armored vehicles were seen rolling across the Ukraine’s separatist-controlled territories late Monday. It wasn’t immediately clear if they were Russian but NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that “we saw last night that further Russian troops moved into the Donbas into parts of Donetsk and Lugansk.”

A vaguely worded decree signed by Putin late Monday cast his order for troops in the separatist territories as an effort to “maintain peace.”

On Tuesday, Russian lawmakers Putin permission to use military force outside the country – a move that could presage a broader attack on Ukraine after the U.S. said an invasion was already underway there.

Russian officials haven’t yet acknowledged any troop deployments but Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, told reporters that Russian troops already had moved in, taking up positions in the region’s north and west.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told U.K. lawmakers that Russian tanks were already in eastern Ukraine.

“Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers” have been spotted in the eastern Ukraine regions recognized by Putin, Johnson said, adding that amounts to “a renewed invasion” of Ukraine.

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What is Ukraine's response?

Demonstrators stand along the street near the Russian embassy to protest against the escalation of the tension between Russia and Ukraine in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sought to project calm, telling the country in an address overnight: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything.”

Protesters, some draped in Ukrainian flags, gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Kyiv. One held up a sign that read: “We choose Europe not Russia.”

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What is NATO saying about Russian moves?

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Russia is taking military action against Ukraine and he condemned Moscow’s decision to recognize separatist areas of southeast Ukraine as independent.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.

“Moscow has now moved from covert attempts to destabilize Ukraine to overt military action,” Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday.

Asked whether Russia’s actions constitute an invasion, he said: “Russia has already invaded Ukraine, they invaded Ukraine back in 2014,” when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. He added that “what we see now is that a country that is already invaded is suffering further invasion.”

Stoltenberg said NATO allies have more than 100 jet planes on high alert and more than 120 warships ready at sea from the high north to the Mediterranean Sea.

He said the NATO response force remains on high readiness but is not yet being deployed, although some allies are moving troops, ships and planes into the Baltic states and near the Black Sea to defend NATO allies.

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Germany moves to halt gas pipeline certification

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany has taken steps to halt the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, as he slammed Putin’s actions on Ukraine as a “serious break of international law.”

The decision is a significant move for the German government, which had long resisted pulling the plug on the project despite pressure from the United States and some European countries to do so.

Scholz told reporters in Berlin it was necessary to “send a clear signal to Moscow that such actions won’t remain without consequences.” He said it is now “up to the international community to react to this one-sided, incomprehensible and unjustified action by the Russian president.

Washington has for years argued that building another pipeline bringing natural gas from Russia to Germany increases Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies.

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More on what are the U.K. and the European Union doing?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says his government is slapping sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals over Russia’s latest military moves on Ukraine.

Johnson told lawmakers that sanctions would hit Rossiya Bank, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

He said three Russian oligarchs with interests in energy and infrastructure – Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg – will have their assets frozen and be banned from traveling to the U.K.

Johnson accused Putin of “establishing the pretext for a full-scale offensive” against Ukraine and said “further powerful sanctions” would follow, if that happened.

Top European Union officials said the bloc is set to impose sanctions on several Russian officials and banks financing the Russian armed forces as part of moves to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.

The actions, to be taken in the wake of Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of two separatist regions in southeast Ukraine and to deploy troops there, would “target those who were involved in the illegal decision,” an EU statement said.

The EU sanctions would also target trade from the two breakaway regions.

EU foreign ministers are meeting later Tuesday in Paris to discuss the measures.

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Is there still room for diplomacy?

With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, the U.S. warned last week that Putin had already decided to invade its neighbor. Still, President Joe Biden and Putin tentatively agreed to a meeting brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron in a last-ditch effort to avoid war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, though, said “it’s premature to talk about specific plans for a summit.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was in Washington on Tuesday to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Ukraine’s United Nations ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said during a Monday night Security Council meeting: “We are committed to a political diplomatic settlement and do not succumb to provocations.”

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Britain calls for soccer final to be moved from Russia

In this handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson updates MPs on the latest situation in Ukraine, in the House of Commons in London, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022.

The British government is leading the calls for the Champions League soccer final to be taken away from Russia by Europe’s soccer governing body to punish its deepening intervention in Ukraine.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson highlighted concerns about the showpiece men’s game being played in St. Petersburg on May 28 as he urged Putin not to conduct a full invasion of Ukraine.

“It’s absolutely vital in this critical moment that President Putin understands that what he is doing is going to be a disaster for Russia,” Johnson told the House of Commons.

“He is going to end up with … a Russia that is more isolated, a Russia that has pariah status, no chance of holding football tournaments in a Russia that invades sovereign countries.”

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What happened at the UN Security Council?

United Nations – Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador demanded that Russia cancel its recognition of the independence of the separatist regions in the east, immediately withdraw its “occupation troops” and return to negotiations.

Sergiy Kyslytsya said during Monday emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that Ukraine called the rare evening session to protest and condemn Putin’s “illegal and illegitimate” decision to recognize the separatist-controlled regions.

Kyslytsya said Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders “have been and will remain unchangeable regardless of any statements and actions by the Russian Federation.”

He said Putin’s moves “may be considered” as Russia’s unilateral withdrawal from the Minsk Agreements, which were aimed at restoring peace to eastern Ukraine.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, dismissed “as nonsense” Putin’s assertion that Russian troops would be in eastern Ukraine as peacekeepers, saying their presence is “clearly the basis for Russia’s attempt to create a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine.”

Thomas-Greenfield said the Russian president has presented the world with a choice and it “must not look away” because “history tells us that looking the other way in the face of such hostility will be a far more costly path.”

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AP writers around the world contributed to this report.