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'Largest in world' migration crisis set to cripple EU – Bloc prepares for 'millions'

Central European countries condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine on Thursday with Poland calling for the “fiercest possible sanctions” against Russia and the Czech foreign minister calling it a “barbaric act of aggression”.

The countries on the European Union’s eastern flank, all NATO allies sharing borders with Ukraine except for the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, have also started preparations to receive potentially hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine.

“We must immediately respond to Russia’s criminal aggression on Ukraine. Europe and the free world has to stop Putin. Today’s European Council should approve fiercest possible sanctions,” Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki said.

The Polish government said it expects a decision on reinforcing NATO’s eastern flank after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, a government spokesman added.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on Twitter that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was an “absolutely unjustifiable act of aggression toward an independent country, which cannot remain without reaction from EU and NATO.”

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky added, also on Twitter: “Together with Allies, we will respond to this barbaric act of aggression.”

Refugees International President Eric Schwartz warned a refugee crisis sparked by Russia’s attacks could be bigger than anything seen in Europe in decades.

He said: “Russia is creating a crisis that risks displacement and suffering on a scale that could surpass any seen in Europe in decades.”

Finland is also prepared to receive refugees from Ukraine, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Thursday, as she strongly condemned the military action Russia has taken in Ukraine.

Ms Marin estimated there could be a large number of refugees from Ukraine who could try to escape towards the European Union.

“(Finland’s) ministry of interior for its part is preparing to receive refugees from Ukraine,” she told reporters.

Both Marin and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto strongly condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

“Despite prior warnings, this morning has come as a shock for all of us and our deepest feelings are with Ukrainian people,” Mr Niinisto said.

Mr Niinisto ruled out the possibility of Finland reacting to the events by immediately applying for NATO membership.

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“(In Finland) we are now seeing quick comments for applying today and joining tomorrow. These sensitive reactions are understandable but cannot really work in the real world,” he said.

Romania said it is preparing to receive up to half a million potential refugees from Ukraine in case of a Russian invasion.

The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday it had not seen an increased movement of people fleeing Ukraine, but eastern European governments and towns near the Ukrainian border were making preparations to take people in, if needed.

“There are several estimates, but we could receive over 500,000 refugees, that is…the number for which we have prepared alongside the interior ministry and other institutions,” Romanian Defence Minister Vasile Dincu said on Tuesday.

“There is a plan prepared for all large cities, there are areas for this near the borders.”

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Romania, a European Union and NATO member state has a 600-kilometre (370-mile) border with Ukraine but saw relatively few Ukrainian refugees in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.

“We are also not expecting a major influx coming here now, but one never knows,” Mr Dincu said.

German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said today that Germany will offer support to countries in eastern Europe, especially Poland, facing an influx of refugees from the conflict in Ukraine.

She said: “We will offer massive support to the affected states, especially our neighbour Poland, in the event of large refugee movements.”

She added that German security authorities had stepped up protective measures against possible cyber attacks.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield warned the conflict could displace five million people.

She said: “If Russia continues on this path it could, according to our estimates, create a new refugee crisis, one of the largest facing the world today.”



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