TOKYO — World leaders scrambled Tuesday to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin — and to signal possible sanctions — after he ordered his forces into separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.
While Russia’s troop movements were still not clear, leaders in Asia and elsewhere voiced strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, along with worries about how a European war could hurt global and local economies and endanger foreign nationals trapped in Ukraine.
“Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory must be respected,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said. “A military clash against the wishes of the international community … would bring huge ramifications in the politics and economies of not only Europe, but to the whole world.”
The conflict in Ukraine could cause massive economic disruption across Europe which heavily depends on Russian energy. However, Asian countries are equally concerned.
Moon directed his staff to be prepared for economic consequences in South Korea should the Ukraine crisis get worse and U.S.-backed countries impose severe economic sanctions against Russia.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam said diplomats were trying to persuade 63 of its nationals who currently remain in Ukraine to leave.
The chances of an international conflict are slimming. Putin’s directive came hours after he recognized the two Ukrainian separatist regions, setting up Russian military support and antagonizing Western leaders who regard it as a breach of world order.
Putin blamed NATO and called the U.S.-led NATO an existential threat.
Some nations have indicated a willingness for punishment to be pursued.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida criticized Russia for violating Ukrainian territorial integrity and said his country would discuss possible “severe actions,” including sanctions, with the international community.
Putin’s “actions are unacceptable, and we express our strong condemnation,” Kishida told reporters Tuesday. “Japan is watching the development with grave concern.”
Japan is involved in a territorial dispute with Moscow regarding four Russian-controlled islands at the northern end of World War II. This standoff prevented them from signing a peace agreement.
The global condemnation came amid rising skirmishes in the eastern regions of Ukraine that Western powers believe Russia could use as a pretext for an attack on the Europe-facing democracy that has defied Moscow’s attempts to pull it back into its orbit.
Nanaia Mahuta, New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, stated that there is no international basis for Putin to recognize separatist areas in Ukraine.
“We are concerned that this is a calculated act by President Putin to create a pretext for invasion, which would be a clear act of aggression. We again call for urgent diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful resolution,” Mahuta said in a statement.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Russia should “unconditionally withdraw” from Ukrainian territory and stop threatening its neighbors. Morrison said Russia’s actions were “unacceptable; it’s unprovoked, it’s unwarranted.”
“It is important that like-minded countries who denounce this sort of behavior do stick together, and I can assure you that the moment that other countries put in place strong and severe sanctions on Russia, we will be in lockstep with them and we will be moving just as quickly,” he said.
The threat of new sanctions underscores the West’s difficulty in preventing a military conflict that’s long been portrayed as inevitable.
NATO-member Turkey, which has close relations to both Ukraine and Russia, criticized Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of the regions in eastern Ukraine.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry statement released Tuesday said: “We find this decision by Russia unacceptable and reject it.”
Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary Of State, spoke to Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister, by telephone in order to reiterate U.S. support of Ukraine.
The White House issued an executive order to restrict investment and trade in the separatist regions, and additional measures — likely sanctions — were to be announced Tuesday. According to an official from the administration, the sanctions will not be linked with Washington’s prepared measures in case of invasion by Russia.
Ukraine, six countries and the United States called an emergency meeting at the United Nations Security Council Monday night.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador said the United States and its Western allies were egging on Ukraine toward “an armed provocation.”
Vasily Nebenzia claimed that Ukraine had intensified shelling of residential areas in the separatist region over the weekend, as well as some Russian villages and towns near the border.
Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador demanded that Russia cancel its recognition of the independence of the separatist regions, immediately withdraw its “occupation troops” sent there by Putin and return to negotiations.
Sergiy Kyslytsya condemned Putin’s “illegal and illegitimate” decision to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
China, an ally and longstanding ally to Russia, issued a cautionary note calling for calm and diplomatic solutions to the crisis.
US has warned of the possibility that Russia has made plans to invade Ukraine. There are approximately 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s three sides. In a desperate effort to prevent war, President Joe Biden met with Putin to try to reach an agreement.
Meeting will not be held if Russia is present.
The West and Ukraine have both accused Russia of arming and supporting separatists. However, Moscow denies this accusation, stating that the Russians who participated in the fighting were volunteer.