A raft of western sanctions has failed to stop Russia moving closer to all-out war with Ukraine, as Moscow gave its troops authorisation to operate abroad and supported the claim of Kremlin-backed militants to Ukrainian territory that is under government control.
The European Union, United States and Britain imposed sanctions on a range of Moscow-based deputies, officials, businessmen and banks after Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree to recognise the independence of the so-called people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk (DNR and LNR) and to send "peacekeepers" to the breakaway regions.
The EU unveiled sanctions on all 351 Russian deputies who voted in favour of Mr Putin’s decree and 27 individuals and entities accused of destabilising Ukraine, and announced steps to bar Russia’s central bank from raising funds on European financial markets.
Berlin, meanwhile, announced the suspension of the €9.7 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to pump Russian gas directly to Germany, which would cut Ukraine out of the lucrative and strategic energy-transit trade.
US president Joe Biden unveiled what he called "a first tranche" of sanctions that would target Russia's banks, sovereign debt and members of its political elite and their relatives.
“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbours?” Mr Biden said.
Russia’s belligerent stance did not change, however, and Mr Putin said his decree recognised the right of DNR and LNR to the whole of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, about two-thirds of which are now held by Kyiv and its forces.
“We expect . . . all controversial issues to be resolved during negotiations between the current Kyiv authorities and the leadership of these republics. Unfortunately, we understand this is impossible at the moment, since hostilities there are continuing and, moreover, show a tendency to escalate,” Mr Putin said.
He also accused Ukraine of wrecking efforts to end the eight-year war in its eastern Donbas region and said it was “being used by third countries to create threats towards Russia”.
Moscow has massed some 150,000 troops and heavy weapons near Ukraine, while demanding that Nato bars the country from ever becoming a member and withdraws its forces from eastern Europe.
Mr Putin – who has threatened to take “military-technical’ steps if his demands are not met – said conflict could be avoided if Ukraine renounced its Nato accession ambitions and accepted Russia’s 2014 annexation of its Crimea region.
"Every indication is that Russia is continuing to plan for a full-scale attack of Ukraine," said Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.
“We continue to call on Russia to step back . . . It’s never too late not to attack.”
Moscow and its proxies in eastern Ukraine again accused government forces of killing civilians in DNR and LNR with artillery and bomb attacks, which Kyiv and its western allies say are false claims to create a pretext for a new Russian assault.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy says his country will not surrender any territory or its Nato hopes, and insists that an all-out invasion is not imminent. "We don't believe there will be a major war against Ukraine," he said. "But if there is, martial law will be declared."