Australia, Japan hit Russia with sanctions over Ukraine

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Feb. 23 (UPI) — Australia and Japan imposed sanctions Wednesday on Russia, becoming the latest nations to do so after President Vladimir Putin earlier this week deployed so-called peacekeeper troops to two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine.

Putin announced his decision to recognize the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent on Monday, sparking condemnation by the United States and its allies who have been warning of a Russian invasion of the former Soviet republic for months.

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In response, Canada, the United States, Britain, the European Union and others imposed punitive economic measures against the Kremlin and Russian entities.

Putin attempted to cast the West as the aggressors and questioned Ukrainian statehood in a televised speech that many observers see as setting up the pretext for a larger invasion.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the situation in Ukraine to reporters during a press conference as an unwarranted and unjustified invasion and said that Russia was “at peak readiness” to complete a full-scale invasion of its neighbor.

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“Australians always stand up to bullies and we will be standing up to Russia,” he said.

Australia will immediately impose sanctions on Russians accused of being responsible for the situation in Ukraine, including eight members of the Security Council of the Russian Federation who provided advice to Putin in his recognition of the breakaway regions.

The government will also amend legislation concerning existing sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Crimea to include Donetsk and Lugansk, giving the government broad coverage to target anyone “aiding and abetting this invasion,” Morrison said.

“These sanctions will significantly expand the scope of persons and, I stress, entities, that Australia can list for targeted financial sanctions and travel bans,” he said.

The sanctions will target the transportation, energy and telecommunications sectors as well as oil, gas and mineral reserves in the two regions.

A host of financial institutions including the Russian State Development Bank, VEB, the military bank Promsvyazbank, Rossiya, IS Bank, the General Bank and the Black Sea Bank will also be sanctioned inline with measures taken by the United States and Britain, Morrison said.

“This is only the start of the process,” he said, adding that he expects future rounds of sanctions. “We are working with our partners to identify additional individuals who will be subject to these sanctions.”

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Meanwhile, the roughly 430 Ukrainian visa applications to Australia will be expedited, he said.

In Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chastised Russia’s moves as “clearly violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty” and of international law, prompting sanctions that will restrict travel to Japan and freeze the assets of those connected to the breakaway regions.

Export-import bans will also be put in place for Donetsk and Lugansk and the issuance and distribution of new Russian sovereign bonds will be prohibited, Kishida told reporters during a press conference. He said that Japan will work on further measures with the international community “if things get worse.”

In New Zealand, Nanaia Mahuta, the minister of foreign affairs, called Russian Ambassador Georgii Zuev to her office in “strong opposition” to the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine and threatened Moscow with punitive measures in the event of “a full invasion of Ukraine.”

“The New Zealand government is prepared to respond with a suite of measures in line with those in line with those of our partners, and which will send a clear message of unity against an act of Russian aggression,” she said in a statement. “These measures span the range of options available to New Zealand, including export bans and diplomatic measures.”

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The moves followed U.S. President Joe Biden hitting VEB and Russia’s military bank with sanctions as well as introducing a new “comprehensive” punitive package on Moscow’s sovereign debt that will deny it the ability to raise money or trade its new debt on the Y.S. or European markets.

Top leaders and their families will also be targeted, Biden said.

In response, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, on Wednesday rejected the sanctions, saying in a statement that he doubts anyone believes they will convince the Kremlin to change its foreign policy stance.

“I don’t remember a single day when our country lived without any restrictions from the Western world,” he said. “We have learned to work in such conditions.”

“And not only to survive, but also to develop our state,” he said.