The UK will hit Russia with tough new sanctions after Vladimir Putin formally recognised two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and announced he was sending troops to the regions.
The Kremlin said what it described as “peacekeeping forces” would be deployed to Donetsk and Luhansk, which are controlled by pro-Moscow separatists. It came hours after Mr Putin said he would recognise the two regions as independent states.
The earlier announcement prompted the UK to trigger fresh sanctions against the Kremlin, with a warning of further measures if Russia decides to invade Ukraine.
Boris Johnson will chair a Cobra meeting at 6.30am on Tuesday morning to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine and to coordinate the UK response “including agreeing a significant package of sanctions to be introduced immediately,” Downing Street said.
The European Union said it would “react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act”.
Meanwhile, the White House said President Joe Biden has signed an executive order banning US investment and trade in the breakaway regions.
The order prohibits “new investment, trade, and financing by US persons” in either of the self-declared republics.
But the US said these measures “are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine”. The United States will announce further measures, likely sanctions-related, on Tuesday, a senior administration official said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was “urgently” preparing an address in the early hours of Tuesday, after calls with Mr Biden, Mr Johnson, and European Council President Charles Michel.
Mr Putin’s announcement appeared to torpedo any remaining hopes of a diplomatic resolution to the crisis and is being viewed as a pretext by Mr Putin to invade Ukraine.
Mr Johnson said the Western plan to impose financial measures only with “the first toecap” of a Russian invasion into Ukraine may need to be revisited as Mr Putin’s actions are “extremely bad news”.
It was now “becoming clear that we need to start applying as much pressure as we possibly can because it is hard to see how this situation improves,” he added.
In a statement, the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Tomorrow we will be announcing new sanctions on Russia in response to their breach of international law and attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
She later said she had spoken to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister “to give my full support to Ukraine and discussed the sanctions UK will be imposing on Russia together with our allies.”
The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “It is an act of aggression… that must be met with an unequivocal response.”
In a statement to the Commons, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Russian forces were continuing to move towards the border zone despite repeated assurances given by Moscow to the contrary.
Around two-thirds of 110 Russian battalions are now positioned within 50km of the border, with around half “tactically deployed” in locations close to Ukraine. “These are not the actions of a Russian government fulfilling its declarations that it has no intention of invading Ukraine,” Mr Wallace added.