British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday the U.K. will use the “toughest possible” economic sanctions against Russia if it invades Ukraine.
Johnson told the BBC the sanctions would not only target Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates, “but also all companies and organizations with strategic importance to Russia.”
The British leader said, “We are going to stop Russian companies raising money on U.K. markets, and we are even with our American friends going to stop them trading in pounds and dollars.”
French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin had a telephone conversation Sunday morning that the Elysee described as "the final possible and necessary efforts to avoid a major conflict in Ukraine."
The conversation came two weeks after the French leader went to Moscow to dissuade Putin from invading Ukraine.
"We need to stop Putin because he will not stop at Ukraine,” Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in an interview Sunday in The Daily Mail about Putin’s apparently imminent invasion of Ukraine.
“Putin has said all this publicly, that he wants to create the Greater Russia, that he wants to go back to the situation as it was before where Russia had control over huge swathes of Eastern Europe.”
Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s Executive Commission, said, “The Kremlin’s dangerous thinking, which comes straight out of a dark past, may cost Russia a prosperous future.”
She said if Russia invades Ukraine, Russia would have limited access to financial markets and tech goods, according to a sanctions package that is being prepared.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Saturday that he wants to meet with Putin to negotiate a solution to the crisis that has seen thousands of Russian military troops deployed along Ukraine’s borders.
“I don’t know what the president of the Russian Federation wants, so I am proposing a meeting,” Zelenskiy said at the Munich Security Conference.
Meanwhile, Austria, France and Germany are the latest nations to urge their citizens to leave Ukraine, in anticipation of an imminent invasion. Lufthansa, the German airline, has also canceled flights to Kyiv and Odessa, a Ukrainian Black Sea port.
U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with the National Security Council Sunday, the White House announced Saturday as it reaffirmed that “Russia could launch an attack against Ukraine at any time,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Putin presided over military drills Saturday as shelling escalated in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s defense ministry said Saturday’s exercises, which the Kremlin says were previously planned to check readiness, involved practice submarine launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, with Putin and the president of Belarus looking on.
‘Poised to strike'
Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the more than 150,000 Russian troops that have massed at Ukraine’s border “are now poised to strike,” as he spoke with reporters in Lithuania, where Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called for an increased U.S. troop presence.
At the Munich Security Conference Saturday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris warned that Russia’s plan was already unfolding.
“There is a playbook of Russian aggression, and this playbook is too familiar to us all. Russia will plead ignorance and innocence. It will create false pretext for invasion, and it will amass troops and fire power in plain sight,” said Harris, who added a Russian invasion would trigger sanctions that include far-reaching financial sanctions and export controls.
Speaking at the same conference earlier Saturday, Stoltenberg said Russia, in threatening Ukraine, “will get more NATO” instead of the smaller NATO footprint Putin says he is seeking.
Stoltenberg also said he has sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calling for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council to avert a conflict in Ukraine. Stoltenberg told the Munich Security Conference that there is no evidence that Russia has withdrawn any of its troops from Ukraine’s borders and there is a real risk of conflict.
But as Ukraine’s Zelenskyy addressed the audience of high-level officials and security experts from around the world, Zelenskyy pushed back against predictions of an imminent Russian invasion, declaring “We do not think we need to panic,” Agence France-Presse reported.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, told the BBC that evidence points to Russia planning "the biggest war in Europe since 1945.”
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported more than 1,500 cease-fire violations in east Ukraine on Saturday, the highest single-day number this year.
Ukraine’s military accused separatists in two breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine – the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics – of carrying out a new wave of attacks Saturday.
The separatists, who also accused Ukraine’s military of carrying out new attacks Saturday, signed mass military mobilization decrees. The head of one of the territories urged all able-bodied men to take up arms against what he claimed is Kyiv’s aggression. The regions have also begun evacuating some civilians from border areas.
Biden said the move was a result of Russian misinformation, saying that it “defies basic logic” that people in Ukraine would “choose this moment” to engage in combat with more than 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders.
Should Moscow invade Ukraine, it will be critical for the United States to convince the world that Russia is the aggressor and that it did so unprovoked, Max Bergmann, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told VOA.
“This was a master class from the Biden administration in how to win an information war with Russia,” Bergmann said. “The Biden administration has read the Kremlin playbook and they are exposing Russian disinformation as they come across it.”
However, Biden is still offering Putin a de-escalation off-ramp, saying that diplomacy is “always a possibility.” He said, based on the “significant intelligence capability” of the U.S., he has reason to believe Putin will still consider the diplomatic option.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet with Lavrov February 24.
In the event of an invasion, Western allies must resolve differences over the timing and severity of sanctions against Moscow. For example, the initial package likely will not include banning Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, system used by 200 countries for international financial transfers.
Russian officials have denied they plan to invade Ukraine, but diplomatic talks with Western officials have led to a standoff. Russia has demanded that the U.S. and its allies reject Ukraine's bid for membership in NATO.
The West has rejected that as a nonstarter but has said it is willing to negotiate with Moscow over missile deployment and troop exercises in Eastern European countries closest to Russia.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.