LONDON: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has already begun so Britain will impose sanctions on Russia, a senior British minister said on Tuesday (Feb 22) as Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired an emergency government response meeting over the Ukraine crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine after recognising them as independent on Monday, accelerating a crisis the West fears could unleash a major war.
A Reuters witness saw tanks and other military hardware moving through the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk after Putin formally recognised the breakaway regions and ordered the deployment of Russian forces to "keep the peace".
"You can conclude that the invasion of Ukraine has begun," British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News. "The Russians, President Putin, has decided to attack the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity."
"We will be introducing sanctions as we said we always will," he said.
"We will immediately institute a package of economic sanctions," Johnson told reporters after an emergency government response meeting.
"This is, I should stress, just the first barrage of UK economic sanctions against Russia, because we expect I'm afraid that there is more Russian irrational behaviour to come."
The sanctions, Johnson said, would be "targeted not just at entities in Donbass and Luhansk and Donetsk, but in Russia itself - targeting Russian economic interests as hard as we can."
Britain has threatened to cut off Russian companies' access to US dollars and British pounds, blocking them from raising capital in London and to expose what Johnson calls the "Russian doll" of property and company ownership.
Britain has not yet spelled out who would fall under the sanctions, but has pledged that there would be nowhere for Russian oligarchs to hide. Johnson has said targets could include Russian banks.
Hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into London and Britain's overseas territories from Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, and London has become the Western city of choice for the super-wealthy of Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Putin will find he has "gravely miscalculated", Johnson said, adding that Moscow appeared to be bent on a full scale invasion of its former Soviet neighbour.
"I think that the tragedy of the present situation is that President Putin has surrounded himself with like-minded advisors who tell him that Ukraine is not a proper country. And I think that he is going to find that he has gravely miscalculated," Johnson told reporters after the meeting.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has created a situation as grave as the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, Johnson's health minister said.
The Cuban missile crisis erupted in 1962 when the Soviet Union responded to a US missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba.
The sanctions, Johnson said, would hit Russia's economy hard.
"They will hit Russia very hard, and there is a lot more that we are going to do in the event of an invasion," Johnson said.