Ukraine: Ursula Von Der Leyen slams Putin for Russia’s invasion
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Russian forces fired missiles at several cities in Ukraine and landed troops on its coast on Thursday, officials and media said, after President Putin authorised what he called a special military operation in the east.
Shortly after Putin spoke in a televised address on Russian state TV, explosions could be heard in the pre-dawn quiet of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Gunfire rattled near the capital’s main airport, the Interfax news agency said, and sirens were heard over the city.
European Union leaders will discuss new, tough sanctions on Russia at an emergency meeting later today.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the sanctions will “target strategic sectors of Russia’s economy”.
She announced: “Russian forces invaded Ukraine, a free and sovereign country.
“We condemn this barbaric attack, and the cynical arguments used to justify it.
“Later today we will present a package of massive, targeted sanctions.
“The sanctions will target strategic sectors of Russia’s economy.
“We will freeze Russian assets in the EU and stop access of Russian banks to our financial market.
“This is designed to take a heavy toll on the Kremlin’s ability to finance war.”
But some are lamenting EU leaders’ reaction to President Putin’s threats comes a little too late after months of failed diplomatic tactics.
Belgiam MEP Guy Verhofstadt is calling for all Putin’s “cronies” to be sanctioned across the EU, the UK and the US.
He said: “Why so slow to tackle Putin’s class of cronies? They are well known and so are their links to the EU, US, UK.
“Hit those on Navalny’s 35 list where it hurts and do it now!”
Speaking to The Telegraph, an EU diplomat said: “Member states are asking Borrell to get his sanctions game back on track.
“Unlike the UK and US, the EU has been unable, and Borrell unwilling, to broaden their scope, particularly to hurt more oligarchs.”
Responding to Mrs von der Leyen’s promises, Twitter users across the EU also condemned the delayed efforts by the bloc.
Twitter user Oscar Wright wrote: “Too late with your ‘diplomatic’ efforts.”
User Alfred echoed: “We’re just sick and tired of this statements. Do something already.”
And Twitter user MPT #StandwithUkraine warned: “All Putin hears is that there will be no troops on the ground supplied by the West /US to support Ukraine. Sanctions will not deter him.”
Ukrainian Twitter user Jan Kozak called on EU leaders to show military power.
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He wrote: “Sanctions won’t drive the invaders out of Ukraine and will most likely affect only regular Russian citizens anyway.
“The armed response is the only way Putin will understand.”
User Victor_T echoed: “How many brigades are we sending?
“Are we creating a no-fly zone over Western Ukraine?
Mobilising our military forces?
“WHAT THE HELL are we going to do really except telling Ukrainians we are ‘gravely concerned’?”
And user Jorge Winkel added: “Although it is too late for Ukraine, the EU has to redefine its foreign policy.
“Good start can be to stop making blind eye and shaking hands in authoritarian regimes, which do not respect all the principles represented by the union.”
The EU approved a first round of sanctions on Wednesday, including blacklisting Russian politicians and curbing trade between the EU and two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine whose independence Putin has recognised.
The new measures, to be discussed at an evening summit of national EU leaders starting at 1900 GMT, will be “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented”, the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said.
“This is among the darkest hours for Europe since the end of World War Two … Russia’s leadership will face unprecedented isolation.”
The EU will also prepare a new aid package for Ukraine, he added. “We will also be active in supporting evacuation operations, including our own staff in zones affected by this Russian attack,” he said.
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