The European Union (EU) says it is planning to put forward "massive" sanctions against Russia, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The EU’s executive chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday that the package of targeted sanctions would be presented to the bloc’s leaders for approval at an emergency meeting later in the day.
Von der Leyen held Russian President Vladimir Putin responsible for bringing war back to Europe, saying the new sanctions would block Russia’s access to "key technologies and markets," freeze Russian assets in the EU, and halt Moscow’s access to European financial markets.
She said the sanctions, if approved, "will weaken Russia's economic base and its capacity to modernize,” adding that, 'These sanctions are designed to take a heavy toll on the Kremlin's interests and on their ability to finance the war."
In a televised address early on Thursday, Putin said he had ordered the Russian Federation's military to carry out a "special military operation" in Ukraine’s Donbass region to “defend people” there against government forces, after the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk asked the Kremlin for military assistance in response to what they called "Ukrainian aggression."
In his address, Putin stressed that Moscow has "no plans to occupy Ukrainian territory, " adding that the special operation would aim to "demilitarize" and "de-Nazify" Ukraine.
Shortly after Putin’s speech, loud explosions were reported across Ukraine, including in the capital, Kiev. The Ukrainian media reported that the country’s military command centers were attacked across the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that Russian forces had carried out missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure and Ukrainian border guards, and that blasts had been heard in many cities.
EU sanctions high-ranking Russian officials over Ukraine
Meanwhile, the EU has imposed sanctions against key members of Putin's inner circle, as well as a number of other figures involved in Russian politics and media, over the recent developments in Ukraine.
The EU announced the new sanctions against a total of 555 individuals and 52 entities on Wednesday, after Moscow recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics and sent "peacekeeping" forces there.
"That illegal act further undermines Ukraine's sovereignty and independence and is a severe breach of international law and international agreements," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, adding that the sanctions "will hurt Russia a lot."
Those included in the list are Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin's chief of staff Anton Vaino, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, head of state-run English-language television network RT Margarita Simonyan, and Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close Putin ally who provides funding for the Internet Research Agency (IRA).
Those individuals will be barred from traveling to the European Union and their assets will be frozen, according to EU officials.
More than 300 members of the lower house of Russia's national legislature who voted to support Putin's decision to recognize the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent are also among the people targeted.
Three prominent banks, VEB, Rossiya, and Promsvyazbank, were also sanctioned and the bloc moved to limit access to Moscow's sovereign debt to European financial markets as well.
The EU said its nearly 600-page list of penalties are just the first part of a package of "unprecedented" measures it had prepared against Russia, adding that it was holding the rest back in case Moscow launches a full-scale attack on Ukraine.
On Monday, Putin signed a decree recognizing the breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics and instructed Russia's Defense Ministry to deploy peacekeeping troops to the two regions.
Donetsk and Lugansk regions were turned into self-proclaimed republics by their ethnic Russian residents in 2014, which triggered a violent conflict between government forces and the secessionists.
Following the announcement, the US imposed financial penalties on Moscow. The United Kingdom also targeted five banks and three oligarchs. Germany suspended certification of the Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 pipeline, while Australia, Japan, and Canada also announced measures.