World expresses outrage, plans stronger Russia sanctions
Updated 11 a.m.
World leaders Thursday reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with raw outrage — and vows of unprecedented sanctions — that shrouded a sense of powerlessness to defend Ukraine militarily without running the risk of a wider war in Europe.
NATO had already reinforced its eastern flank facing Russia and planned a virtual summit of its leaders on Friday after President Vladimir Putin warned that any interference from other countries would lead to "consequences you have never seen in history.”
European Union and NATO member Lithuania declared a state of emergency since the Baltic nation borders Russia’s Kaliningrad region to the southwest and Russia's ally Belarus to the east. NATO countries had 100 jets and 120 ships on high alert as a deterrent.
"Make no mistake: We will defend every ally against any attack on every inch of NATO territory,” said NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Stoltenberg both called the invasion a “barbaric" attack on an independent nation that threatened “the stability in Europe and the whole of the international peace order.” The EU scheduled an emergency summit in Brussels.
But no one promised to move in militarily and defend Ukraine at the risk of touching off a bigger European war. Ukraine is not a NATO member, and the U.S. and its Western allies have said for weeks that they would not send troops into the country.
The goal instead is to make Moscow pay so high a price by other means that the Kremlin will change course.
“Our mission is clear: Diplomatically, politically, economically and eventually militarily, this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Almost all of the world — but not China — condemned the attack and threatened to hit the Russian elites with, in the words of the EU president, “massive and targeted sanctions.” Von der Leyen said she would put to EU leaders late Thursday a proposal that would target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking access to key technologies and markets.
She said the sanctions, if approved, “will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernize. And in addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets.”
“We want to cut off Russia’s industry from the technologies desperately needed today to build the future,” von der Leyen said.
In the days before the attack, Germany suspended approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, and the EU imposed sanctions against hundreds of Russian lawmakers and other officials and institutions from the defense and banking worlds. The EU also sought to limit Moscow's access to capital and financial markets.
In a similar bid to fend off an invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden announced sanctions over the past few days against Russian banks and oligarchs and warned of even heavier penalties in the event of an attack. He convened a morning meeting Thursday of his National Security Council to deal with the crisis.
Von der Leyen insisted all Western powers were in lockstep on the crisis. Even Hungary, an often recalcitrant member of the EU, promptly condemned the attack, raising hopes that the 27 states would quickly achieve the required unanimity for the sanctions package.
Highlighting a widening rift in superpower relations, China stood alone in failing to condemn the attack and instead accused the United States and its allies of worsening the crisis.
China went further and approved imports of wheat from Russia, a move that could reduce the impact of Western sanctions. Russia, one of the biggest wheat producers, would be vulnerable if foreign markets were closed off.
In a clear defense of Moscow, China “called on parties to respect others' legitimate security concerns.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that “all parties should work for peace instead of escalating the tension or hyping up the possibility of war” — language China has consistently used to criticize the West in the crisis.
One thing was clear: Weeks of diplomatic cajoling, global crisscrossing of leaders and foreign ministers, and the threat of sanctions against Putin's inner circle had failed to persuade the Kremlin not to plunge Europe into one of its biggest crises since the end of the Cold War.
The turmoil set off by the attack rippled from Europe to Asia. Stock markets plunged, oil prices surged, and European aviation officials warned of the danger to civilian aircraft over Ukraine amid the fighting.
Oil prices climbed by more than $5 per barrel. Brent crude briefly jumped above $100 per barrel in London for the first time since 2014 over fears of a disruption of supplies from Russia, the No. 3 producer.
The possible repercussions extended well beyond economics and geopolitics. The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worried that the crisis will further distract global attention from helping the world’s least vaccinated continent fight COVID-19.