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West slaps sanctions as Moscow recognises Luhansk, Donetsk

Ukraine President Zelensky calls up reservists aged 18-60 years to join military service immediately as several settlements come under artillery fire and missile attack from rebels. The West and allies slap wide-ranging sanctions as Russia declares Luhansk and Donetsk independent.

KYIV, Feb 23: Russian military has begun moving into rebel-controlled Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine after the parliament voted to authorise President Vladimir Putin to use armed forces in foreign territories as he deemed it necessary. The approval followed Putin endorsing the House resolution earlier to accord recognition to the two self-proclaimed "republics" within Ukraine. The West and its eastern allies reacted with wide-ranging sanctions on Russia.

As fighting between rebels and Ukrainian forces flared up, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky called up reservists aged 18-60 years to join service as a war-like condition is developing. Ukraine is facing mounting fears of a Russian invasion. It has asked any of its nationals staying in Russia also to quit immediately. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked the West to “Hit his (Putin) economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

Several casualties are being reported from the frontline areas with Ukraine. Separatists opened fire on dozens of settlements along the frontline using heavy artillery, which has been prohibited by agreements like Minsk agreement. Videos are appearing on social media of tanks and missiles being fired and frightening blasts in residential areas. False-flagging of Kyiv evacuation has also been spread by pro-Russian elements. Ukraine is surrounded by 150,000 Russian troops on three sides. The earlier pullout claims had turned out to be false leads.

Russia late Wednesday afternoon reportedly cyber-attacked several banks as well as official websites, Ukraine charged.

Even as the fighting is going on, Putin said Moscow is ready for "diplomatic solution." As the Parliament's upper house gave him unanimous approval to deploy "peacekeepers" (military) to the two breakaway Ukrainian regions in Donbas or any other parts of Ukraine, Putin in a video address listed his conditions for a solution to the crisis as: 1. Guarantee that Ukraine will not be admitted to the NATO; 2. Recognition to Crimea as Russian territory (Crimean peninsula was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014); 3. The West will not supply arms to Ukraine 4. Recognise the rebel-controlled regions. He said, "But the interests of Russia, the security of our citizens, are non-negotiable for us."

The troop movement authorisation was given to Putin after he addressed the nation on Monday announcing that he had accepted to recognize Russia- backed separatist "republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk as proposed by a resolution by the parliament earlier.

Australia on Wednesday joined the United States, the European Union, Canada, Germany, Britain and japan to impose sanctions on Russia after Moscow recognised the separatist regions as independent entities and ordered troops to move into in Ukraine. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, "Australians always stands up to bullies, and we will be standing up to Russia along with all of our partners. I expect subsequent tranches of sanctions, this is only the start of this process."

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan's sanctions target Russia and the separatist "republics" recognised as independent by Moscow. He said his Government will ban Russian Government bonds in Japan. Visa issuance will be suspended, assets in Japan will be frozen and trade with the two regions will be banned, he said.

Germany had earlier halted a huge Russian natural gas project.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said on Saturday: “If Ukraine is endangered, the shock will echo around the world. And those echoes will be heard in east Asia, will be heard in Taiwan.”

Putin visited Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing recently when the West took a united stand against a Russian plan for an "invasion" of Ukraine. They issued a joint statement, running inro more than 5,000 words. When the West responded with economic sanctions as Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, China had stepped in buying Russian oil and Russia reciprocated buying equipment from Huawei.

Imran Khan for Moscow

It is the first time a Pakistani Prime Minister is going to Moscow on an official visit since former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Moscow 23 years ago. Moving away from the US, Pakistan, already in the Chinese ring, is currently cosying up to Russia for strategic reasons. Especially as the Ukrainian crisis is assuming the dimension of a global flareup, Pakistan has apprehensions that it will also be affected if a conflict escalates and China gets involved. Already Putin has had a meeting with Xi jinping in Beijing which was followed by Pakistan, the latter hoping to be a willing partner of an axis in case a war spills over to the East. It would be politically naive as to think that Imran Khan is going to Moscow for a one-on-one with Putin just for the clearance for the gas project.

With Putin vowing support on Taiwan for Chinese back in Ukraine against the US and Europe, and Pakistan boarding the axis, an Ukrainian war will definitely be not limited to Europe and as Johnson warned, it will be foiught in the East too.

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