Twenty million dollars in UN humanitarian funds for Ukraine. A raft of new, stronger sanctions against Russia from Japan, Australia, Taiwan and others. And a cascade of condemnation from the highest levels.
As Russian bombs and troops pounded Ukraine during the invasion’s first full day, world leaders began to fine-tune a response meant to punish the Russian economy and its leaders, including President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
While there’s an acute awareness that a military intervention isn’t possible, for now, the strength, unity and speed of the financial sanctions — with the striking exception of China, a strong Russian supporter — signal a growing global determination to make Moscow reconsider its attack.
“Japan must clearly show its position that we will never tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Friday while announcing new punitive measures that included freezing the visas and assets of Russian groups, banks and individuals, and the suspension of shipments of semiconductors and other restricted goods to Russian military-linked organizations.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an extremely serious development that affects the international order, not only for Europe but also for Asia,” Kishida said.
Countries in Asia and the Pacific have joined the United States, the 27-nation European Union and others in the West in piling on punitive measures against Russian banks and leading companies. The nations have also set up export controls aimed at starving Russia’s industries and military of semiconductors and other high-tech products.
The moves follow Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s forces conducted airstrikes on cities and military bases, and his troops and tanks rolled into the nation from three sides. Ukraine’s government pleaded for help as civilians fled. Scores of Ukrainians, civilians and service members alike, were killed.
“An unthinkable number of innocent lives could be lost because of Russia’s decision,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. She announced targeted travel bans against Russian officials and other measures.
At the United Nations, officials set aside $20 million to boost UN humanitarian operations in Ukraine. Separately, the UN Security Council is expected to vote Friday on a resolution condemning Russia and demanding the immediate withdrawal of all its forces. Moscow, however, is certain to veto it.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the $20 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund will support emergency operations along the contact line in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk and in other areas of the country, and will “help with health care, shelter, food, and water and sanitation to the most vulnerable people affected by the conflict.”
The West and its allies have shown no inclination to send troops into Ukraine — a non-member of NATO — and risk a wider war on the continent. But NATO reinforced its member states in Eastern Europe as a precaution against an attack on them, too.
The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, meanwhile, extended to 200 nautical miles the airspace it considers risky, and warned of “the threat of missile launches to and from Ukraine.”
Protests by Ukrainians and their supporters were held Friday in Taiwan, Mongolia and Australia. Public buildings, sports stadiums and landmarks in the Australian city of Melbourne were illuminated in Ukraine’s national colors of blue and yellow.
Japan’s new sanctions follow an earlier set of measures that include the suspension of distributing and issuing new Russian government bonds in Japan — a move aimed at cutting funding for Russia’s military — a trade ban with two Ukrainian separatist regions and the freezing of their assets and visas .
Japan, which has long sought to regain control of Russian-held northern islands seized at the end of World War II, took a milder stance toward Moscow during Russia’s 2014 Crimea annexation. Tokyo’s response to the current invasion has been considered tougher and faster, something that may be linked to a deep worry in Tokyo over China’s increasingly assertive military actions in the region.
South Korea, like Japan a strong US ally, has been more cautious.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his nation will join international sanctions, but won’t consider unilateral sanctions.
South Korea’s comparative caution is likely because its economy is heavily dependent on international trade. It also worries that strained ties with Moscow could undermine efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. Russia is reportedly South Korea’s 10th largest trading partner, and Moscow is a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council and maintains friendly ties with North Korea.
Taiwan Friday announced that it would join in economic sanctions against Russia, although it did not specify what type of measures those would be. Sanctions could potentially be focused on export control of semiconductor chips, local media reported. Taiwan is the dominant manufacturer of such chips, a critical component used in technologies from cars to laptops to cellphones.
While most nations in Asia rallied to support Ukraine, China has continued to denounce sanctions against Russia and blamed the United States and its allies for provoking Moscow. Beijing, worried about US power in Asia, has increasingly aligned its foreign policy with Russia to challenge the West.
“At a time when Australia, together with the United Kingdom, together with the United States and Europe and Japan, are acting to cut off Russia, the Chinese government is following through on easing trade restrictions with Russia and that is simply unacceptable,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday.
“You don’t go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they’re invading another country,” he added, referring to a report in The South China Morning Post that China had announced it was fully open to Russian wheat imports.
The Russian invasion initially sent stocks slumping and oil prices surging on fears of higher costs for food and fuel, but Asian shares were higher Friday after US stocks recovered toward the end of a wild trading day.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.