US threatens crippling sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine

US Vice President Kamala Harris said the West would impose “unprecedented economic costs” on Russia if it invaded Ukraine, amid warnings it could attack its Western neighbor within a few days. next day.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, she said that the world was seeing “the play of Russian aggression”, with Moscow creating a false premise for the invasion while amassing troops and firepower within range. look clear.

“We are now receiving reports of what appears to be provocative and We are witnessing Russia spreading disinformation, lies and propaganda.

As Russia began its strategic nuclear exercises on Saturday, she warned the West would impose “far-reaching financial sanctions and export controls” against Moscow if President Vladimir Putin ordered it. attack Ukraine.

“We will target financial institutions and key Russian industries, and we will target accomplices and abettors and abettors,” the vice president said. this gratuitous invasion.

“Make no mistake, applying these integrated and coordinated measures will cause great harm to those responsible,” she said.

This year’s Munich conference has been dominated by the tense situation on the Ukrainian border, where Russia has amassed more than 130,000 troops, and the threat of a new war in central Europe.

The construction of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border on the map

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that he was convinced Putin decided to invade Ukraine. After a call with transatlantic leaders about what he described as a “rapidly escalating crisis,” Biden accused Moscow of creating an excuse to attack its neighbor, which he said could begin “within the future.” next week, in the days to come”.

Mr. Putin ordered the start of strategic nuclear exercises on Saturday that US officials see as a show of strength by Moscow to NATO.

Although the Kremlin said the drills should not be “for anyone. . . interested”, the last time they were moved to February from their usual fall timeframe was just before Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.

Russian state media showed Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko at the Kremlin’s command center as the military launched cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as new hypersonic weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko watch military drills © AP

The leaders speaking at the Munich conference called on Russia to step back from the brink and give diplomacy a chance.

“Of course I am under no illusions – we should not expect quick successes,” said Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor. “But we will only be able to overcome the crisis dynamics if we negotiate.” “If diplomacy fails, it’s not our fault,” he added.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato Secretary General, told the Munich conference it was “not too late” for Russia to “change course, step back from the brink, stop preparing for war and start working for a peaceful solution.” ”

Stoltenberg said that “despite Moscow’s statements, we have seen no signs of retreat or de-escalation so far.”

Kamala Harris said the West would impose “unprecedented economic costs” on Russia if it invaded Ukraine. © Tobias Hase / dpa

“We call on Russia to do what it says and withdraw its forces from the Ukrainian border,” he said.

Scholz said the military build-up was “no excuse” and that Russia’s attempt to turn Ukraine into a possible NATO member a “casus belli” was a “paradox”, because the issue was not at stake. on the Western agenda.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, told the conference that the West “is facing a blatant attempt to rewrite the rules of the international order”.

“One only has to read a recent communiqué issued by the leaders of Russia and China,” she said. “They seek a new era – to replace the existing international rules. They prefer the rule of the strongest over the rule of law, intimidation over agency, coercion over cooperation.”

Stoltenberg agrees that “the current crisis is more than Ukraine”. “Moscow is trying to turn back history and recreate its sphere of influence,” he said.

Western concerns about an impending Russian attack on Ukraine spiked on Friday amid what Mr Biden called “fake accusations” of an impending attack by Kyiv’s forces. in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which is partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

Separatist leaders announced the mass evacuation of civilians to Russia and called for all men of combat age to mobilize in the local armed forces. The rebels claim an unspecified number of people have been killed in “terrorist attacks” that they blame on Ukrainian forces.

The investigative website Bellingcat said the timecode on a separatist appeal video recorded on Wednesday – before the start of an increase in shelling in the Donbas – raised suspicions that Russia had begun the operation. false flags with the pretext to invade Ukraine.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, accused Western countries of ignoring what she said were widespread human rights abuses in the region against the indigenous people of Donbas, hundreds of thousands of whom have been granted Russian passport during the eight-year conflict.

“Our country will never tire of fighting evil. We are on the right side of history and facts confirm it all the time,” she wrote on messaging app Telegram.

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