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The Latest: Russia vacates Kyiv embassy amid conflict fears

FILE – Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, looks at Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as he speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. Europe braced for further confrontation Wednesday, Feb.23, 2022, after tensions over Ukraine escalated dramatically when Russian President Vladimir Putin got the OK to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool, File)

The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis:

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MOSCOW — Russia has started evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, as fears mount that Russian President Vladimir Putin might be about to order an invasion of Ukraine.

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Russian state news agency Tass reported that Russia began pulling personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine on Wednesday.

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The move came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry announced a plan to evacuate, citing threats against Russians in Ukraine.

At the same time, Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia as the region braced for a military confrontation, with some 150,000 Russian troops deployed around Ukraine’s borders.

Putin on Tuesday received authorization to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.

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JERUSALEM — After keeping a low profile in the military and diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Kyiv due to its close ties with both, Israel says it supports the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine.

A statement Wednesday from Israel’s foreign ministry expressed concern about the “serious escalation” in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow is formally recognizing the independence of two pro-Russian breakaway regions.

The statement made no mention of Russia, which the United States and its NATO fear is poised to launch a full-blown attack on Ukraine.

The statement said Israel “hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked.”

The foreign ministry voiced concern about the welfare of its citizens in Ukraine and the country’s Jewish community.

Israel is home to a large population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine.

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BRUSSELS — The deputy chairman of Russia’s State Duma claims Russians are unimpressed by the sanctions slapped on their country by the European Union.

Pyotr Tolstoy, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday that Moscow is planning a response to the sanctions. He did not give details.

Tolstoy told Belgian broadcaster RTBF the EU sanctions were “worthless.”

The EU on Tuesday announced sanctions against the 351 Duma legislators who voted in favor of formally recognizing pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine, among others.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is torn between Russia and Ukraine as tensions between its Black Sea neighbors escalate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says of those two countries, “It is not possible for us to give up on either of them.”

He told reporters: “We have economic, military and economic ties with Russia. We also have political, military and economic ties with Ukraine … Our aim is to take such a step that we can solve this problem without having to give up on neither of them.”

Turkey has repeatedly offered to mediate as fears mount that Russia could order its troops to invade Ukraine any day now.

Turkey lies on the south coast of the Black Sea, with Ukraine and Russia to the north and northeast, respectively.

Erdogan’s comments were reported by Hurriyet newspaper and other media on Wednesday.

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BEIJING — China is accusing the United States of creating “fear and panic” over the crisis in Ukraine.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Wednesday that China opposes new sanctions on Russia, reiterating a longstanding Chinese position.

She said the U.S. was fueling tensions by providing weapons to Kyiv in response to Russia’s large troop deployment around Ukraine’s borders and fears of an invasion.

China-Russia ties have grown closer under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at talks in Beijing earlier this month.

The two sides issued a joint statement backing Moscow’s opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan — key foreign policy issues for Beijing and Moscow.

Hua said Beijing wants multilateral talks to ease the mounting international tension over Ukraine. She did not mention efforts by the U.S., France and others to engage Russia diplomatically.

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MOSCOW — Ukraine’s top diplomat wants to see tougher sanctions slapped on Russia over its aggressive posture toward his country.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday on Twitter: “To stop Putin from further aggression, we call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now.”

He expressed thanks for international sanctions imposed on Moscow the previous day. But he asked countries to crank up the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kuleba wrote: “Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

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LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary has defended the speed and scale of sanctions against Russia, saying the government is holding some measures in reserve for use in the event of a full-scale incursion into Ukraine.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News that western powers want to keep some sanctions “in the locker” to deter Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s ambitions. British authorities have said they were seeking to verify troop movements before deciding how to proceed.

“We’ve heard from Putin himself that he is sending in troops,” Truss told Sky. “We don’t yet have the full evidence that that has taken place. What we are expecting … is a full-scale invasion, including potentially of Kyiv.”

Truss’s comments came as she defended the government’s decision to impose sanctions on just five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals following Putin’s decision to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions of Ukraine and to send troops into the area as “peacekeepers.”

U.K. opposition leaders and defense experts have criticized the government for not imposing tougher sanctions, especially after the U.S. and European Union moved more aggressively to punish Putin.

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VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is urging all sides in the Russia-Ukraine dispute to examine their consciences before God and pull back from threats of war.

In an appeal at the end of his weekly general audience Wednesday, Francis said he was pained and alarmed by developments in Ukraine, which he said “discredit international law.”

He didn’t single out Russia’s massing of troops at Ukraine’s borders or its recognition of two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine. But he noted: “Once again, the peace of everyone is threatened by vested interests.”

The Vatican is toeing a fraught diplomatic and ecumenical line, given its efforts to reach out to the Russian Orthodox Church and convene a second meeting between Francis and its leader, Patriarch Kirill.

Francis called for believers and non-believers alike to mark March 2, Ash Wednesday in the Catholic calendar, as a day of fasting and prayer.

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CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has announced additional sanctions on Russia and is warning businesses to prepare for retaliation through Russian cyberattacks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday that targeted financial sanctions and travel bans will be the first batch of measures in response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine.

Australia and Russia have imposed sanctions on each other since 2014. The sanctions were initiated by Australia in protest of Russian involvement in the Ukraine conflict.

The National Security Committee in Morrison’s Cabinet approved sanctions and travel bans that target eight members of the Russian Security Council. They also agreed to expand previous sanctions and to align with the United States and Britain by targeting two Russian banks.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s government summoned Russian Ambassador Georgii Zuev to meet Wednesday with top diplomatic officials who are urging Russia to return to diplomatic negotiations over Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta is currently out of the country but said in a statement that the ambassador was called in “to hear New Zealand’s strong opposition to the actions taken by Russia in recent days, and condemn what looks to be the beginning of a Russian invasion into Ukraine territory.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to The Associated Press that the meeting had taken place but declined to provide any further details.

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SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea has no plans to send troops or other types of military support to Ukraine amid an escalating crisis, but says it may join a U.S.-led economic pressure campaign against Russia.

A South Korean presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing on Wednesday, said Seoul was considering its possible actions but that “military support or troop deployment aren’t included.”

When asked whether the U.S. has asked Seoul to join in sanctions against Russia, the official said Washington has been sharing with allies its plans to impose stringent trade controls and punitive financial measures against Moscow.

“Major Western nations have expressed intent to participate in the sanctions against Russia,” the official said. “We are also looking into (the matter) while keeping various possibilities open.”

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday expressed “grave concern” over the Ukraine crisis and called for related nations to respect the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace to eastern Ukraine, while seeking a diplomatic solution.

The ministry didn’t directly criticize Russia, but said Seoul has consistently supported Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory.

—- Tong-hyung Kim

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TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister has announced sanctions targeting Russia and two separatist Ukrainian regions recognized as independent by Russian President Vladimir Putin, joining an international effort seeking to pressure Russia to return to diplomatic talks.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday that his government will ban the new issuance and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan in response to the “actions Russia has been taking in Ukraine.”

He said Japan will also suspend visa issuance to people linked to the two Ukrainian rebel regions and freeze their assets in Japan, and will ban trade with the two areas.

Kishida expressed his “strong condemnation” of Russia, saying it has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as international law.

“We strongly urge Russia to return to a diplomatic process in resolving the developments,” he said.

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Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

AP

FEB 23, 2022

https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-business-new-zealand-australia-europe-08ae29f98152817b1b503b4b957c63f1

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