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Russia-Ukraine: What to know as Putin takes military action

Vladimir Putin sits at a distance from Russian officials at the Kremlin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin leads a meeting Monday at the Kremlin.
(Sputnik / Kremlin Pool Photo)
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a military operation in Ukraine, and he is warning other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen.”

U.S. President Biden says the world will “hold Russia accountable.”

Russia’s president warns others to stay out of the conflict. President Biden says, ‘The world will hold Russia accountable.’

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The Ukrainian president earlier rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and made a passionate plea for peace.

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Before Putin’s announcement, world leaders worked to maintain a united stance and vowed to impose tougher sanctions in the event of a full-fledged invasion.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Wednesday night at Ukraine’s request.

Here are the things to know about the conflict over Ukraine and the security crisis in Eastern Europe:

What action is the United Nations taking?

The U.N. Security Council held another emergency meeting on Ukraine on Wednesday night, just two days after another emergency session saw no support for Russia’s decision to recognize the two rebel regions of Ukraine as independent and to order Russian troops there for “peacekeeping.”

“If indeed an operation is being prepared, I have only one thing to say from the bottom of my heart: President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council.

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Council diplomats are now finalizing a draft of a resolution that would declare that Russia is violating the U.N. Charter, international law and a 2015 council resolution on Ukraine, a diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private. The resolution would urge Russia to come back into compliance immediately, the diplomat said.

At a General Assembly meeting earlier Wednesday, Russia and ally Syria defended Moscow’s moves. But even China, which usually takes Russia’s side at the U.N., spoke up for the world body’s long-standing principle of respecting countries’ sovereignty and internationally recognized borders, while not mentioning Russia by name.

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 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.

Ukrainian and Western officials are worried about a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, mindful of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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Biden on Wednesday allowed sanctions to move forward against the company that built the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and against the company’s CEO.

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Biden waived sanctions last year when the project was almost completed, in return for an agreement from Germany to take action against Russia if it used gas as a weapon or attacked Ukraine. Germany said Tuesday it was indefinitely suspending the pipeline.

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Ukraine’s Western supporters said 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 Liz Truss 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,” she added, before Putin’s announcement.

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.

President Biden announces plans for additional sanctions on Russia. But he and other allies question whether they will only further provoke Putin.

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U.S. actions announced Tuesday target high-ranking Russian officials and two Russian banks considered especially close to the Kremlin and Russia’s military, with more than $80 billion in assets.

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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 stoking 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 one another’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 a military conflict would benefit no one.

A statement from the Turkish president’s office said Erdogan told Putin that Turkey does not approve of actions that undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and described Ankara’s position as “a principled stance.”

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