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US sanctions Russia for 'beginning' invasion of Ukraine
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced tough new sanctions on Russia for "beginning" an invasion of Ukraine but said there was still time to avoid war, even as Vladimir Putin signaled plans to send troops beyond Russia's borders.
Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, gave Putin unanimous approval to deploy "peacekeepers" to two breakaway Ukrainian regions now recognized by Moscow as independent, and potentially into other parts of Ukraine.
Biden announced what he called the "first tranche" of sanctions, including steps to starve Russia of financing and target financial institutions and its "elites."
But he left the door open to a final effort at diplomacy to avert a bloody full-scale Russian invasion.
"There's no question that Russia is the aggressor, so we're clear eyed about the challenges we're facing," the president said in a nationwide address from the White House.
"Nonetheless, there is still time to avert the worst case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people if they move as suggested."
The announcement followed a wave of sanctions announced by Britain and the European Union, after Putin recognized the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk rebel republics.
Germany also announced it was halting certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia.
Putin's plans remained unclear, but Western officials have been warning for weeks he has been preparing for an all-out invasion of Ukraine, a move that could spark a catastrophic war in Europe.
Speaking to journalists, Putin said the Minsk peace agreements on Ukraine's conflict no longer existed and he recognized claims by the separatists to more territory than they currently control.
But he added that the deployment of Russian troops would "depend on the specific situation... on the ground" and appeared to offer Ukraine a way out by giving up on its hopes to join the US-led NATO military alliance.
"The best solution... would be if the current Kyiv authorities themselves refused to join NATO and maintained neutrality," Putin said.
- 'Every indication' of invasion -
The Russian foreign ministry said it would soon evacuate its diplomatic staff from Moscow to "protect their lives."
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had "every indication" that Moscow "continues to plan for a full-scale attack on Ukraine."
Kyiv showed no sign of backing down to Moscow, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba meeting Biden to appeal for more military aid.
Biden said in his White House address the United States would continue to supply "defensive" weapons to Ukraine and deploy more US troops to reinforce NATO allies in Eastern Europe.
"Let me be clear, these are totally defensive moves on our part," he said.
Kyiv recalled its top diplomat from Moscow as President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Putin's recognition of the breakaway regions heralded "further military aggression" against Ukraine.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said EU foreign ministers "unanimously agreed on an initial sanctions package", as he cancelled a meeting with his Russian counterpart planned for Friday.
"The sanctions will hurt Russia and will hurt a lot," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters, adding that targets for asset freezes and visa bans included 351 members of Russia's lower house State Duma.
- Russian congratulations -
Britain slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires.
In some capitals there has been debate over whether sending troops into an area that was already controlled by Russian-backed rebels amounts to the kind of all-out invasion that would justify imposing the harshest sanctions.
But Putin's rhetoric about the borders of the separatist regions was sure to raise concerns.
Russia said it had established diplomatic relations "at the level of embassies" with the separatist-controlled regions.
And Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sent congratulations to his counterparts in the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic.
In the frontline town of Shchastya on Tuesday, shellfire rang out around an electric power station as fearful residents awaited the Russian deployment.
A shell hit the roof of 59-year-old Valentyna Shmatkova's apartment block overnight, shattering all the windows in her two-room apartment.
"We spent the war in the basement," she said, referring to the 2014 fighting that saw the region break away from Ukraine.
"But we weren't expecting this. We never thought Ukraine and Russia wouldn't end up agreeing."
- Putin's angry speech -
Putin announced he was recognizing the territories, which broke away from Kyiv's control in 2014 in a conflict that cost 14,000 lives.
After a dramatic televised meeting with his top officials, Putin spoke to the Russian people in a 65-minute address from his Kremlin office.
In an often angry hour-long address from his Kremlin office, the Russian leader railed against Ukraine as a failed state and "puppet" of the West, accusing Kyiv of preparing a "blitzkrieg" to retake the separatist regions.
US officials say there is a 150,000-strong Russian force poised to launch an all-out assault on Ukraine.