European Union leaders will impose new sanctions on Russia, freezing its assets, halting its banks’ access to European financial markets and targeting “Kremlin interests" over its “barbaric attack" on Ukraine, senior officials said on Thursday.
An emergency summit starting at 1900 GMT will also discuss offering EU candidate status to Ukraine, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said, a step Kyiv has long called for, though it may not win approval from all EU leaders.
Russian forces fired missiles at several cities in Ukraine and landed troops on its coast on Thursday, officials and media said, after President Vladimir Putin authorised what he called a special military operation in the east.
“President Putin is responsible for bringing war back to Europe," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said, adding that the EU would hold him accountable.
“With this package, we will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to key technologies and markets," she said in an emergency statement. “We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernise.
Russian assets in the EU would also be frozen and Russian banks’ access to the European financial market would be stopped.
However, cutting Russia off the SWIFT global interbank payments system - one of the toughest, non-military sanctions the West could impose - is unlikely to be agreed at this stage, several EU sources said.
The EU approved a first round of sanctions on Wednesday, including blacklisting Russian politicians and curbing trade between the EU and two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine whose independence Putin has recognised.
The new measures, to be discussed at the evening summit of national EU leaders, will be “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented", the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said.
“This is among the darkest hours for Europe since the end of World War Two … Russia’s leadership will face unprecedented isolation."
The EU will also prepare a new aid package for Ukraine, he added. “We will also be active in supporting evacuation operations, including our own staff in zones affected by this Russian attack," he said.
Shortly after Putin spoke in a televised address on Russian state TV, explosions could be heard in the pre-dawn quiet of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Gunfire rattled near the capital’s main airport, the Interfax news agency said, and sirens were heard over the city.