European Union leaders are putting on a united front after a six-hour meeting during which they agreed on a second package of economic and financial sanctions on Russia.
The EU Council president accuses Russia of using “fake pretexts and bad excuses” for justifying its invasion of Ukraine and says sanctions will hurt the government.
The legal texts for the sanctions agreed on are expected to be finalised overnight and be submitted for approval to EU foreign affairs ministers Friday.
EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the package includes targeting 70 per cent of the Russian banking market and key state-owned companies.
She says Russia's energy sector also will be targeted “by making it impossible for Russia to upgrade its refineries.” And there will be a ban on sales of software, semiconductors and airliners to Russia.
Australia blames China
Australia's prime minister is accusing China of throwing Russia a lifeline by easing trade restrictions at a time the much of the world is trying to stop the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was reacting on Friday to a report in The South China Morning Post that China had announced it was fully open to Russian wheat imports.
Morrison noted that Australia, the United States, Britain, the European Union and Japan are imposing sanctions on Russia, and said China's easing of trade restrictions "is simply unacceptable”.
In his words: “You don't go and throw a lifeline to Russia in the middle of a period when they're invading another country.”
Japan announces sanctions
Japan has announced additional sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday that the new measures include freezing the assets of Russian groups, banks and individuals and suspending exports of semiconductors and other sensitive goods to military-linked organisations in Russia.
Kishida says that “Japan must clearly show its position that we will never tolerate any attempt to change the status quo by force”.
Earlier in the week, Japan suspended new issuances and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan, aiming of reduce funding for Russia's military. It also banned trade with the two Ukrainian separatist regions.
Japan has long sought to regain control of northern islands Russia seized at the end of World War II and previously had tended to be milder toward Moscow.
United Nations resolution
The UN Security Council will vote on Friday on a resolution that would condemn Russia's military aggression against Ukraine “in the strongest terms.” It also would demand an immediate halt to Russia's invasion and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.
A senior US official says the Biden administration knows the measure will be vetoed by Russia, but believes it is very important to put the resolution to a vote to underscore Russia's international isolation.
The official says the council vote will be followed by a resolution voted on quickly in the 193-member UN General Assembly where there are no vetoes.
The final draft resolution, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, would reaffirm the council's commitment “to the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders”. The council is scheduled to vote at 3 pm EST Friday.
Meanwhile, the White House is expressing outrage at “credible reports” from Ukrainian officials that the staff at the shuttered Chernoybl nuclear plant have been taken hostage by Russian troops.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that “we condemn it and we request their release.”
Psaki says the US has no assessment on the state of the plant where radioactivity is still leaking decades after the worst nuclear disaster in history. But she says hostage taking could hamper efforts to maintain the nuclear facility and is “incredibly alarming and greatly concerning.” Psaki spoke after Alyona Shevtsova, an adviser to the commander of Ukraine's Ground Forces, wrote on Facebook that the staff at the Chernobyl plant had been “taken hostage” when Russian troops seized the facility.
Macron calls Putin
An official at France's presidential office says the aim of French President Emmanuel Macron's phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin was to demand the immediate halt of military operations. According to the official at the Elysee Palace, Macron called Putin from Brussels on Thursday just before the start of an urgent meeting of European Union leaders focusing on sanctions against Russia.
The official says Macron made the call after consulting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The official says Macron reminded Putin “that Russia was facing massive sanctions.” The official spoke anonymously in accordance with the French presidency practice.
According to the Kremlin's report on the call, Putin and Macron agreed to continue their contacts.