The Russian Parliament on Tuesday gave permission to President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to use military force outside the country, Associated Press reported. The move paves way for Putin to deploy a formal military attack on Ukraine, according to the news agency.

Members of Russia’s Upper House, the Federation Council, voted unanimously in favour of the move after Putin wrote to the legislators seeking clearance.

The development came less than a day after Russia recognised separatists in the self-proclaimed Ukrainian regions of Donestsk and Luhansk as independent on Monday. Over the last 24 hours, Putin has also ordered for troops to be deployed in separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, raising fears of an imminent invasion. However, in a decree issued by him, Putin claimed that the forces were being sent to “maintain peace”.

Reuters quoted witnesses as saying that unusually large military hardware columns were moving through Donestsk city.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom Vadym Prystaiko said that he believed that an invasion had already begun and that Russian forces “are entering as we speak”, the BBC reported. He added that he was concerned that Russia may go further than the separatist regions, and invade large parts of the country, including the capital city of Kiev.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asserted that the country was not afraid of anyone or anything. “We don’t owe anyone anything,” he said. “And we won’t give anything to anyone.”

UK, Germany impose sanctions

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom on Tuesday imposed sanctions on billionaires with alleged close links to Putin, Reuters reported. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the assets held by Gennady Timchenko, Igor Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg in the UK will be frozen and the billionaires will not be allowed to travel to the United Kingdom.

Restrictions have also been imposed on Russian institutions like Rossiya, IS Bank, GenBank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, Reuters reported.

The pipeline, which has been built to bring gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, has been completed but is yet to get regulatory approval. The pipeline systems have been opposed by the United States and Ukraine as they fear that they may increase Russia’s influence in Europe.

At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Washington will impose sanctions on Russia on Wednesday as it had violated “international law and Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

“We can, will, and must stand united in our calls for Russia to withdraw its forces, return to the diplomatic table and work toward peace,” she said.

The United States issued an order barring investments and trade from the country in the breakaway regions and the country is likely to announce additional measures, possibly in the form of sanctions, on Tuesday, according to Associated Press.

United States President Joe Biden said on Monday evening that he has signed an Executive Order “to deny Russia the chance to profit from its blatant violations of international law”. He said that the United States is holding close consultations with allies and partners, including Ukraine, on the next steps.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also condemned Russia’s recognition of the separatist regions in Ukraine. “This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law,” Trudeau said. “Canada stands strong in its support for Ukraine – and we will impose economic sanctions for these actions.”

The Canadian prime minister also condemned Russia’s decrees deploying military forces in Ukraine. “We remain steadfast in our support for Ukrainian sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence,” he said. “Canada, and our allies, will defend democracy and the will of the Ukrainian people.”

Meanwhile, China, considered to be an ally of Russia, has said that “legitimate security concerns” of all countries must be respected and the principles of the United Nations Charter should be upheld.

“China once again calls on all parties to exercise restraint, appreciate the importance of implementing the principle of indivisible security, and de-escalate the situation and resolve differences through dialogue and negotiation,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.

Russia-Ukraine tensions

Since early this year, Russia has amassed over 1 lakh troops at the Ukrainian border. Reports also said that 30,000 more troops are engaged in exercises in Belarus, close to its border with Ukraine.

The two countries have been engaged in a conflict since 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed separatist rebellions in the country’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Russia has consistently maintained that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. Last week, there were reports that the country was pulling back some of its troops from the border. But, the United States and allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, have rejected these claims.

On Monday, Moscow claimed that it has killed five Ukrainian “saboteurs” who had crossed into Russia. Ukraine, however, has denied the claims.