China on Wednesday accused the U.S. of creating “fear and panic” over Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, and called for talks to reduce rapidly building tensions.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China is opposed to new unilateral sanctions imposed on Russia, reiterating a longstanding Chinese position.

She said the U.S. was fueling tensions by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, without mentioning Russia’s deployment of as many as 190,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Hua also did not mention efforts by the U.S., France and others to engage Russia diplomatically.

China-Russia ties have grown closer under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin at talks in Beijing earlier this month. The two sides issued a joint statement backing Moscow’s opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan.

“On the Ukraine issue, unlike the U.S., which keeps sending weapons to Ukraine, creating fear and panic and even playing up the threat of war, China has been calling on all parties to respect and pay attention to each other’s legitimate security concerns, work together to solve problems through negotiations and consultations, and maintain regional peace and stability,” Hua said at a daily briefing.

The outcome of the Ukraine crisis is seen as having ramifications for China over its threat to invade Taiwan, a close U.S. ally, and its border dispute with India and its claims in the South China and East China seas, where it has raised concerns over conflict with Japan, the Philippines and others.

Hua said those accusing China of contradicting its stance on respecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity in relation to Russia’s moves toward Ukraine were “either driven by ulterior motives or deliberately distorting or misinterpreting China.”

“To correctly and objectively understand the Ukraine situation and seek a rational and peaceful solution, it is necessary to understand the merits of the Ukraine issue and properly address relevant countries’ legitimate security concerns on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” Hua said.

She said sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and others have been ineffective in reducing tensions while causing “serious difficulties to relevant countries’ economies and livelihoods.”

“The U.S. should never undermine the legitimate rights and interests of China and other parties when dealing with the Ukraine issue and relations with Russia,” Hua said.

Hua’s comments come after the Defense Department announced Tuesday that a spate of combat aircraft and infantry troops will head to the Baltics and Poland. They will join 6,000 troops already activated in Germany, Poland and Hungary,

Europe braces for the worst

Europe braced for further confrontation Wednesday and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia after tensions escalated dramatically when Russia’s leader got the OK to use military force outside his country and the West responded with a raft of sanctions.

Hopes for a diplomatic way out of a new devastating war appeared all but sunk as the U.S. and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line in rolling over Ukraine’s border into separatist regions — with several calling it an invasion.

The top U.S. diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart; Kyiv recalled its ambassador and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow; dozens of nations further squeezed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany halted a lucrative pipeline deal; and the U.S. repositioned additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia.

After weeks of trying to project calm, Ukrainian authorities signaled increasing concern on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended anyone there leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.

The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council called for a nationwide state of emergency — subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it will be up to regional authorities to determine which measures to apply, but they could include additional protection for public facilities, restrictions on traffic, and additional transport and document checks.

Already, the threat of war has shredded Ukraine’s economy and raised the specter of massive casualties, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.

Even as the conflict took a new, dangerous turn, leaders warned it could still get worse. Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to unleash the force of the 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, while U.S. President Joe Biden held back on even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia but said they would go ahead if there is further aggression.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western leaders not to wait.

“We call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Now the pressure needs to step up to stop Putin. Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

Responding defiantly to the steps already taken, Russian ambassador in the U.S. Anatoly Antonov retorted that “sanctions cannot solve a thing” in a statement on Facebook. “It is hard to imagine that there is a person in Washington who expects Russia to revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions.”

‘Thugs and bullies’

World leaders sought Wednesday to back up their tough words over Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, announcing financial sanctions, trade and travel bans and other measures meant to pressure Moscow to pull back from the brink of war.

Even as they ramped up penalties, however, nations in Asia and the Pacific also prepared for the possibility of both economic pain, in the form of cuts to traditional energy and grain supply lines, and retaliation from Russian cyberattacks.

“We can’t have some suggestion that Russia has some just case here that they’re prosecuting. They’re behaving like thugs and bullies, and they should be called out as thugs and bullies,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said while announcing targeted financial sanctions and travel bans as a first step in response to Russian aggression toward Ukraine.

The possibility of imminent war in Ukraine has raised fears not only of massive casualties but of widespread energy shortages and global economic chaos.

The punitive actions in Asia followed sanctions levied by U.S. President Joe Biden and European leaders against Russian oligarchs and banks in response to Russia massing 150,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine. While the larger army has yet to move, Russian forces have rolled into rebel-held portions of eastern Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized those areas’ independence.

In Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced sanctions targeting Russia and the two separatist Ukrainian regions.

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