- Vladimir Putin today asked Russian lawmakers for authority to use military force outside the country
- It raises fears he is planning a wider invasion of Ukraine, having rolled troops into breakaway regions
- Western leaders began sanctioning Putin over the move, with the White House describing it as an ‘invasion’ after hours of dithering – paving the way for ‘severe’ measures announced by Joe Biden
- Germany’s Olaf Scholz cancelled approval of Nord Stream 2 gas pipe in a dramatic hardening of his position
- Boris Johnson sanctioned five banks and three of Putin’s cronies, with EU also set to announce penalties
By CHRIS PLEASANCE and RACHAEL BUNYAN and NICK CRAVEN IN KIEV FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 18:59 AEDT, 22 February 2022 | UPDATED: 08:42 AEDT, 23 February 2022
Russian legislators have authorised Vladimir Putin to use military force outside the country, a move that could pave the way for a wider invasion of Ukraine after he rolled troops into rebel-held areas.
The unanimous vote in the upper house of parliament formalises the Russian strongman’s order to send troops into Ukraine’s breakaway eastern regions and allows him to use military force outside of Russia with immediate effect.
Holding a press conference to defend his decision today, Putin raised fears he is about to stage a land-grab in eastern Ukraine by saying his ‘peacekeeping’ mission will cover the whole of Donetsk and Luhansk regions including areas held by Ukraine. Russia still has around 190,000 troops massed on the border.
It is thought more than 10,000 Russian troops have now moved into rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, with videos revealing columns of tanks rolling through the streets in the early hours. Some 6,000 troops were sent to Donetsk, 5,000 to Luhansk and 1,500 to the city of Horlivka, a source with links to Ukrainian intelligence said.
Putin denied that Russia has already sent in troops but vowed that he will ‘fulfil its obligations’ if necessary. He also issued a fresh list of demands to Ukraine – calling on Kiev to drop its NATO bid, declare neutrality, ‘demilitarize’, and negotiate directly with separatists. It is expected the demands will be rejected out of hand.
Meanwhile the White House began describing Putin’s actions as an ‘invasion’ following hours of dithering, paving the way for Joe Biden to impose crippling financial sanctions on Russia and send more U.S. troops to the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank after his resolve initially appeared to be wavering.
‘We think this is the beginning of an invasion… and you’re already seeing the beginning of our response, that we said will be swift and severe,’ Biden’s deputy national security advisor Jonathan Finer said early Tuesday, after top aides had shied away from using the word overnight.
As Russia’s troops rolled in, fighting in the region escalated – with shells striking a power plant on the Ukrainian side of the line Tuesday morning after explosions killed two of Kiev’s men and wounded 12 overnight.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had earlier led the Western response to Russia, ripping up a deal to open the Nord Stream 2 gas pipe – a move that will cost Russia billions of dollars in revenue but also hurt his own economy, saying that Putin’s actions must have ‘consequences’.
Boris Johnson then announced sanctions on five Russian banks – Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and Black Sea Bank – and three ‘very high net wealth’ individuals – Gennady Timchenko, Boris Rotenberg, and Igor Rotenberg – in what he called a ‘first barrage’, accusing Putin of ‘a renewed invasion’.
Boris Rotenberg, a former judo training partner of Putin, is the co-owner of SMP Bank while Igor Rotenberg is his nephew. Igor became a billionaire after being handed a raft of investments by his father Arkady – who is currently fighting his ex-wife over ownership of a £27 million mansion in Surrey.
Timchenko is Russia’s sixth richest man thanks to his ownership of investment firm Volga Group, and also an ice hockey fanatic.
Biden later ordered heavy U.S. financial sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs and vowed steeper punishments ahead continues its aggression. He also said was moving additional American troops, fighter jets and helicopters to the Baltic states on NATO’s eastern flank to ‘deter any potential aggression against NATO member states’.
The EU also announced new sanctions on Russia that will blacklist more politicians, lawmakers and officials, ban EU investors from trading in Russian state bonds, and target imports and exports with separatist entities – but they did not go as far as sanctioning Putin.
- Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s parliament that Ukraine has ‘no right to exist’ as a sovereign state, as lawmakers voted unanimously to approve Putin’s order
- Andrey Rudenko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said the country has the right to establish military bases in eastern Ukraine off the back of Putin’s decree – but has no plans to do so
- Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov steeled his troops to face ‘losses’, saying they will have to ‘overcome fear and despair’ but vowed ‘certain victory’ in the face of Russian threats
- Dymtro Kuleba, Ukraine’s defence minister, called for ‘tough’ sanctions against Moscow, before flying to Washington to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
- Zelensky said he is considering cutting all ties with Russia and told his countrymen to be ‘ready’ for Russian provocations, but added he still does not expect widespread fighting
- Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine continued staging what are widely believed to be false flag operations, claiming three civilians were killed in a car bombing
- Russian stocks fell more than 8 per cent at opening, the ruble dipped to a two-year low, but oil prices rose 2 per cent amid fears of shortages
- Vladimir Putin vowed to keeping supplying Europe with gas despite threats of sanctions, though some have already accused him of choking supplies
Russian artillery pieces are pictured in Rostov-on-Don, on the Russian side of the Ukrainian border, on Tuesday – as Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to advance on to Ukrainian territory
Russian mobile artillery and armoured troop carriers are seen in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don region on Tuesday, close to the border with Ukraine’s separatist-held areas
Putin is thought to have moved thousands of troops into rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine today (dark red area on the map), but there are fears he will try to seize control of the wider regions that separatists lay claim to (lighter shade area)
Vladimir Putin gave a press conference defending his decision to roll into eastern Ukraine today, vowing that Russia stands ready to ‘fulfil its obligation’ to defend the regions if necessary
Civilians in eastern Ukraine live in fear as shelling intensifies