By RAF CASERT | ASSOCIATED PRESS
BRUSSELS (AP) — World leaders on Wednesday waited to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin would cast the die and order troops deeper into Ukraine. At the same time, they worked to maintain a united stance and vowed to impose tougher sanctions in the event of a full-fledged invasion.
With Russian lawmakers having authorized Putin to use military force outside the country and Ukraine surrounded on three sides by more than 150,000 troops, the rumble of tanks did not appear far off.
The U.S. and key European allies accused Moscow of having already crossed a red line by formalizing a military deployment to regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists. Ukrainian authorities, after weeks of trying to project calm, signaled increasing concern.
Here are the things to know about the conflict over Ukraine and the security crisis in Eastern Europe:
PUTIN STIRS PASSIONS ON FATHERLAND DAY
Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv and marked Defender of the Fatherland Day, a holiday high in national symbolism. On the edge of Moscow’s Red Square, soldiers put red carnations on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier while Putin honoured the memory of the ones who died in past wars.
Putin whipped up Russian nationalism on Monday with a fiery speech indicating that Ukraine historically had no cause for being. He said during Wednesday’s commemoration that Russia would continue to strengthen and modernize its army and navy, “striving to increase their effectiveness, so they are fitted out with the most cutting-edge equipment.”
The head of the rebel government in Donetsk, one of the separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine known as Donbas, marked the Russian holiday and celebrated Putin’s decision to recognize the region’s independence.
“Our state has been in a state of war for almost eight years, which is being waged in all directions: military, informational, ideological, economic,” Denis Pushilin said.
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN UKRAINE?
The Ukrainian government advised its citizens against travel to Russia and recommended that any who were there leave immediately.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called up some of the country’s military reservists as the threat of a Russian invasion grew. “We need to quickly add additional staff to the Ukrainian army and other military formations,” Zelenskyy said.
But Ukraine’s leader acknowledged that his country faced huge odds without membership in a powerful security alliance like NATO.
“We are self-defending ourselves with the support of our partners. But it’s Ukrainians who are dying,” he said.
The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council called for a nationwide state of emergency — subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it could include additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.
Kyiv reported 29 morning shelling incidents on the frontline in eastern Ukraine, where rebels have held large swaths territory since a 2014 Russian incursion of Russia. Ukraine said one of its soldiers was killed and another wounded.
The separatists said shelling from the Ukrainian forces’ side increased.
WHEN WILL THE WEST IMPOSE MORE SANCTIONS?
Ukraine’s forces are no match for Moscow’s military might, so Kyiv is counting on other countries to hit Russia hard – with sanctions.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday on Twitter that the West should target Putin where it hurts without delay. “Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now,” Kuleba wrote.
Ukraine’s Western supporters said that they had already sent out a strong message with a first batch of sanctions on Tuesday. They said Russian troops moving beyond the separatist-held regions would produce more painful sanctions and possibly the biggest war in a generation on Europe’s mainland.
“This is the toughest sanctions regime we’ve ever put in place against Russia,” British Foreign Secretary said of measures that target key banks that fund the Russian military and oligarchs. “But it will go further, if we see a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
The European Union finalized a similar package, which also targets legislators in the lower house of Russia’s parliament and makes it tougher for Moscow to get on EU financial and capital markets.
U.S. actions announced Tuesday target civilian leaders in Russia’s leadership hierarchy as well as two Russian banks, considered especially close to the Kremlin and Russia’s military, with more than $80 billion in assets.
WHO IS BACKING RUSSIA IN THE CRISIS?
Russia is not facing the rest of the world on its own. China is leaning toward Russia and accused the U.S. of poking up the Ukraine crisis.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Washington “keeps sending weapons to Ukraine, creating fear and panic and even playing up the threat of war.”
She said China has been calling on all parties to respect and pay attention to each other’s legitimate security concerns.
Earlier Moscow and Beijing issued a joint statement backing Russia’s objections to NATO accepting Ukraine and other former Soviet republics as members and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan.
Turkey, which is part of NATO but also has strong bonds with Russia and Ukraine, sought to keep all sides close. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with Putin and said that for the tensions to “become more complex and lead to a military conflict” would benefit no one.
A statement from the Turkish president’s office said Erdogan told Putin that Turkey does not sanction actions that undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and described Ankara’s position as “a principled stance.”