Update on the Russian-Ukrainian crisis:
MOSCOW — Russia has begun to evacuate its embassy in Kiev amid growing fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to order an invasion of Ukraine.
Russian state news agency Tass reported that Russia began withdrawing personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine on Wednesday.
The move came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry announced an evacuation plan, 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 was given permission on Tuesday to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.
JERUSALEM — After keeping a low profile in the military and diplomatic standoff between Moscow and Kyiv due to its close ties to the two, Israel says it supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
A statement issued Wednesday by Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was concerned about the “serious escalation” in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow officially recognizes the independence of two pro-Russian breakaway regions.
The statement makes no mention of Russia, which the United States and its NATO fear is launching a full-scale attack on Ukraine.
The statement said Israel “hopes for a diplomatic solution that will lead to calm and stands ready to help if asked.”
The Foreign Ministry has expressed concern for the welfare of its citizens in Ukraine and the country’s Jewish community.
Israel is home to a large immigrant population from the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine.
BRUSSELS – The deputy speaker of Russia’s State Duma says Russians are unimpressed with the sanctions imposed on their country by the European Union.
Pyotr Tolstoy, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Wednesday that Moscow was planning a response to the sanctions. He did not give details.
Tolstoy told Belgian TV channel RTBF that EU sanctions were “worthless”.
The EU on Tuesday announced sanctions against the 351 Duma lawmakers who voted to formally recognize pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine, among others.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey is torn between Russia and Ukraine as tensions between its Black Sea neighbors escalate.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said of these two countries: “It is not possible for us to abandon one 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 goal is to take such a step that we can solve this problem without having to give up on either of them.
Turkey has repeatedly offered to mediate amid growing fears that Russia could order its troops to invade Ukraine any day.
Turkey lies on the southern Black Sea coast, with Ukraine and Russia to the north and northeast respectively.
Erdogan’s comments were reported by Hurriyet newspaper and other media on Wednesday.
BEIJING — China accuses the United States of creating “fear and panic” over the crisis in Ukraine.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday that China opposes new sanctions against Russia, reiterating a long-standing Chinese position.
She said the United States was fueling tensions by supplying arms to Kiev in response to the massive deployment of Russian troops around Ukraine’s borders and fears of an invasion.
Sino-Russian relations have deepened under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin during talks in Beijing earlier this month.
The two sides issued a joint statement backing Moscow’s opposition to NATO expansion into former Soviet republics and bolstering 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 growing international tension over Ukraine. She did not mention efforts by the United States, France and others to diplomatically engage Russia.
MOSCOW – The head of Ukrainian diplomacy wants to see tougher sanctions slapped Russia for its aggressive attitude towards its country.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter on Wednesday: “To prevent Putin from continuing his aggression, we call on our partners to now impose more sanctions on Russia.”
He expressed his thanks for the international sanctions imposed on Moscow the day before. But he asked countries to increase pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kuleba wrote, “Hit his economy and his cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Strike now.
LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary has defended the speed and depth of sanctions against Russia, saying the government is keeping certain measures in reserve in the event of a large-scale incursion in Ukraine.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News that Western powers wanted to keep some sanctions “in the locker” to deter the ambitions of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. British authorities said they were looking to verify troop movements before deciding how to proceed.
“We heard from Putin himself that he was sending troops,” Truss told Sky. “We don’t yet have all the evidence that this took place. What we expect…is a full-scale invasion, potentially including Kiev.
Truss’ 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 to the region as “peacekeepers”.
British opposition leaders and defense experts have criticized the government for failing to impose tougher sanctions, particularly after the United States and European Union moved more aggressively to punish Putin.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is urging all parties to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict to examine their conscience before God and withdraw from threats of war.
In an appeal at the end of his weekly general audience on Wednesday, Francis said he was pained and alarmed by developments in Ukraine, which he said “discredit international law”.
He did not distinguish the mass of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders or its recognition of two rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. But he noted: “Once again, everyone’s peace is threatened by vested interests.”
The Vatican is toeing a tense diplomatic and ecumenical line, given its efforts to reach out to the Russian Orthodox Church and call a second meeting between Francis and its leader, Patriarch Cyril.
Francis called on believers and non-believers alike to mark March 2, Ash Wednesday in the Catholic calendar, as a day of fasting and prayer.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has announced additional sanctions against Russia and is warning companies to prepare for retaliation through Russian cyberattacks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday that targeted financial sanctions and travel bans would be the first batch of measures in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Australia and Russia have imposed sanctions on each other since 2014. The sanctions were initiated by Australia to protest Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
Morrison’s Cabinet National Security Committee approved sanctions and travel bans that target eight members of Russia’s Security Council. They also agreed to extend previous sanctions and align themselves with the United States and Britain by targeting two Russian banks.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The New Zealand government summoned Russian Ambassador Georgii Zuev on Wednesday to meet with senior diplomatic officials who are urging Russia to resume diplomatic talks on Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta is currently out of the country but said in a statement that the ambassador had been called “to hear New Zealand’s strong opposition to the actions taken by Russia in recent days, and condemn what appears to be the beginning of a Russian crisis”. invasion of Ukrainian territory.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to The Associated Press that the meeting took place but declined to provide further details.
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 could join a US-led economic pressure campaign against Russia.
A South Korean presidential official, who spoke on condition of anonymity at a briefing on Wednesday, said Seoul was considering its possible actions but “military support or troop deployment is not included.”
Asked if the United States had asked Seoul to join the sanctions against Russia, the official said that Washington shared with its allies its plans to impose strict trade controls and punitive financial measures against Moscow.
“Major Western countries have expressed their intention 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 “serious concern” over the Ukrainian crisis and called on the countries concerned to respect the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace in eastern Ukraine, while seeking a diplomatic solution.
The ministry did not directly criticize Russia, but said Seoul has always supported Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory.
—- Tong-hyung Kim
TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister announced sanctions targeting Russia and two breakaway Ukrainian regions recognized as independent by Russian President Vladimir Putin, joining an international effort to pressure Russia to resume diplomatic talks.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday that his government would ban the new issuance and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan in response to “actions Russia has taken in Ukraine”.
He said Japan would also suspend issuance of visas to people linked to the two rebel Ukrainian regions and freeze their assets in Japan, and ban trade with the two regions.
Kishida expressed his “strong condemnation” of Russia, saying it violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as international law.
“We strongly urge Russia to return to a diplomatic process to resolve the developments,” he said.
Follow AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine