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Macron warns Russian invasion of Ukraine a ‘turning point’ in European history

French president vows to ‘respond without weakness to this act of war’; UK’s Johnson says Putin’s ‘hideous and barbaric venture… must end in failure’

A demonstrator holds a placard as she attends a demonstration outside Downing Street, in London, February 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
A demonstrator holds a placard as she attends a demonstration outside Downing Street, in London, February 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Western leaders on Thursday warned Moscow of an uncompromising response to its wide-scale attack on Ukraine, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson branding Russian President Vladimir Putin a “dictator.”

French President Emmanuel Macron described the attack as a turning point in European history. “We will respond without weakness to this act of war, with calm, determination, and unity,” Macron said in an address to the nation.

He added that the events were a “turning point in the history of Europe and our country” that would have “deep and lasting consequences for our lives.”

Decisions would be taken at meetings of the G7, EU, and NATO in the next hours, he said, adding that the sanctions agreed against Russia would be “up to” the scale of the aggression Moscow had launched.

“In the military, economic and energy domains we will be without weakness,” he said.

Macron had repeatedly spoken to President Vladimir Putin seeking a diplomatic solution to the standoff but to no avail.

A photo shows a video screen displaying French President Emmanuel Macron as he delivers a speech on the situation in Ukraine, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on February 24, 2022. (Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

After frenetic telephone talks at the weekend, he has not spoken to the Russian leader since Putin on Monday recognized two Ukrainian breakaway regions as independent.

The French president had notably unsuccessfully tried to broker a summit between Putin and US President Joe Biden.

Macron said that the “massive” Russian attack on Ukraine was “contrary to all the commitments made by the Russian authorities.”

“By going back on his word and refusing the diplomatic path and choosing war, President Putin not only decided to attack Ukraine, he decided to tarnish the whole sovereignty of Ukraine,” said Macron.

“He decided to inflict the most significant damage on peace and stability in Europe for decades,” Macron added, insisting that France and its partners had “done everything” to try and avert the crisis.

Johnson said Putin now faces “massive” Western sanctions for invading Ukraine. “We cannot and will not just look away,” Johnson said in a televised address to the nation, after phoning Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky just after 4:00 a.m. local as Russian forces moved in.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks from 10 Downing Street, in London, on February 24, 2022 during an address to the nation on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. (Jeff J Mitchell / POOL / AFP)

Ukraine can be assured of continued UK support given that “our worst fears have now come true and all our warnings have proved tragically accurate,” Johnson said.

Ahead of an emergency virtual meeting of G7 leaders, Johnson said the West “will agree a massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy.”

“And to that end we must also collectively cease the dependence on Russian oil and gas that for too long has given Putin his grip on Western politics,” he added.

“Diplomatically, politically, economically — and eventually, militarily — this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”

Johnson was unusually direct in highlighting Putin’s personal role in bringing war back to Europe, calling it “an attack on democracy and freedom in east Europe and around the world.”

The “flame of freedom” would return in time to Ukraine, he said.

“Because for all his bombs and tanks and missiles, I don’t believe that the Russian dictator will ever subdue the national feeling of the Ukrainians and their passionate belief that their country should be free.”

Firefighters work on a fire on a building that was bombed by Russia in the eastern Ukraine town of Chuguiv on February 24, 2022. (Aris Messinis / AFP)

Johnson summoned his security chiefs for an early-morning meeting in response to the Russian invasion, and was also to address parliament at 5:00 p.m. local time.

‘Unprecedented’ sanctions

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who spoke to her US counterpart Antony Blinken Wednesday evening before Putin announced the start of military operations, joined Johnson in condemning the attack.

The foreign ministry has deployed teams to five countries in eastern Europe to support Britons leaving Ukraine, she noted.

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he had instructed the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure airlines avoid Ukraine airspace “to keep passengers and crew safe.”

The UK slapped sanctions Tuesday on five Russian banks and three billionaires, in what Johnson called “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.

Flame and smoke rise from the debris of a privet house in the aftermath of Russian shelling outside Kyiv, Ukraine, February 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Leading members of Johnson’s ruling Conservatives, as well as the main opposition Labour party, have urged him to hit the Kremlin as hard as possible with the new sanctions.

Foreign office minister James Cleverly vowed London would respond with “unprecedented” steps “to punish this aggression.”

“Those sanctions will be laid today and over forthcoming days to really prevent Russia from funding this invasion,” he told the BBC.

“The sanctions package that will be put in response to this is already actually having an effect,” Cleverly added, noting record falls Thursday on the Russian stock market and a slump in the ruble’s value.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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