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Russia vows “strong” response to US sanctions over Ukraine.

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Russia will give a “strong” response to US sanctions against Moscow over the latter’s Ukraine steps, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

“There should be no doubt – the sanctions will be given a strong response, not necessarily symmetrical, but verified and sensitive for the American side,” state news agency TASS cited the ministry as saying.

US President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday the “first tranche” of sanctions against Russia for what he described as “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

This came after Russia’s parliament approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to use military force outside the country, formalizing the deployment of Russian troops to separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, a day after he recognized their independence.

The Russian ministry said: “Despite the obvious futility of the efforts made over the years to hinder the development of our economy, the US is once again reflexively grasping at restrictive instruments that are ineffective and counterproductive from the point of view of American interests.”

“Sanctions pressure is not capable of affecting our determination to firmly defend our interests,” the ministry added, describing the American sanctions as a stereotypical move “of a unipolar world with a false conviction that the US is still entitled and can impose its own rules of the world order on everyone.”

Russia has begun evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia on Wednesday as the region braced for further confrontation.

Hopes for a diplomatic way out of a new, potentially devastating war in Europe appeared all but sunk as the U.S. and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line in rolling over Ukraine’s border into separatist regions — with some calling it an invasion.

Russia began pulling personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine, state news agency Tass reported, a day after the Foreign Ministry announced a plan to evacuate, citing threats. By Wednesday afternoon, the Russian flag was no longer flying over the embassy in Kyiv, according to an Associated Press photographer. Police surrounded the building.

After weeks of trying to project calm, Ukrainian authorities also signaled increasing concern on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended anyone there leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council called for a nationwide state of emergency — subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it will be up to regional authorities to determine which measures to apply, but they could include additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.

It was just the latest in a series of signs of escalating tensions. Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow; Russia said it would evacuate personnel from its embassy in Ukraine; dozens of nations further squeezed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany halted a lucrative pipeline deal; the U.S. repositioned additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia, and the top U.S. diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Already, the threat of war has shredded Ukraine’s economy and raised the specter of massive casualties, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.

Even as the conflict took a new, dangerous turn, leaders warned it could still get worse. Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to unleash the force of the 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, while U.S. President Joe Biden held back on even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia but said they would go ahead if there is further aggression.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday called European Union sanctions agreed a day before just “a first step” and also said further measures could follow. Sanctions are key because the West has ruled out taking on Russia militarily.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western leaders not to wait.

“We call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Now the pressure needs to step up to stop Putin. Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

Responding defiantly to the steps already taken, Russian ambassador in the U.S. Anatoly Antonov retorted that “sanctions cannot solve a thing” in a statement on Facebook. “It is hard to imagine that there is a person in Washington who expects Russia to revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions.”

In Ukraine’s east, where an eight-year conflict between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed nearly 14,000 people, violence also spiked again. One Ukrainian soldier was killed and six more sustained injuries after shelling by the rebels, Ukrainian military said. Separatist officials reported several explosions on their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.

Since last Friday, when separatist leaders in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions announced mass evacuations into Russia, more than 96,000 residents of the separatist areas have crossed the Russian border. – Al Arabiya News and PBS News Hour.

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