Russia attacks Ukraine, defiant Putin warns US NATO
Big explosions were heard before dawn in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa as world leaders decried the start of an Russian invasion that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government.
Biden announced new sanctions that would punish Russia for the act of aggression it had anticipated for several weeks, but was unable to prevent diplomatically.
Putin justified it all in a televised address, asserting the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees, and credulously claimed that Russia doesn’t intend to occupy Ukraine but will move to “demilitarize” it and bring those who committed crimes to justice.
Biden in a written statement condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine and he promised the U.S. and its allies “will hold Russia accountable.” Biden said he planned to speak to Americans on Thursday after a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders. Additional sanctions against Russia are expected to be announced on Thursday.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the action as a “full-scale invasion of Ukraine” and a “war of aggression,” adding, “Ukraine will defend itself and will win. Putin must be stopped by the world. The time to act is now.”
The Russian military said it has struck Ukrainian air bases and other military assets and hasn’t targeted populated areas. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, precision weapons are being used by the military to attack Ukrainian air bases and air defense assets. It claimed that “there is no threat to civilian population.”
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on Facebook that the Russian military has launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, air bases and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.
People could be heard shouting from the streets after the initial blasts in Kyiv. The streets were quiet again, and cars circulated.
Other than the potential loss of life, Russia’s sanctions against Russia and the conflict could have a global impact on energy supplies and financial markets, as well as causing disruptions to the post-Cold War balance.
The military action caused a plunge in Asian stock markets and an increase in oil prices. Earlier, Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 index fell 1.8% to an eight-month low after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine asked for military assistance
Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle, saying, “whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history.”
Putin urged Ukrainian servicemen to “immediately put down arms and go home.”
In a stark reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, Putin warned that “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor.” He emphasized that Russia is “one of the most potent nuclear powers and also has a certain edge in a range of state-of-the-art weapons.”
Although the U.S. announced Tuesday that it was repositioning forces around the Baltics on Tuesday, Biden said he would not send troops to fight Russia.
Putin announced the military operation after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine asked Russia for military assistance to help fend off Ukrainian “aggression,” an announcement that the White House said was a “false flag” operation by Moscow to offer up a pretext for an invasion.
Putin’s announcement came just hours after the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and made a passionate, last-minute plea for peace.
“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Zelenskyy said in an emotional overnight address, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens. “But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”
Zelenskyy claimed that he called Putin to schedule a meeting late Wednesday night, but that the Kremlin didn’t respond.
In an apparent reference to Putin’s move to authorize the deployment of the Russian military to “maintain peace” in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky warned that “this step could mark the start of a big war on the European continent.”
“Any provocation, any spark could trigger a blaze that will destroy everything,” he said.
He challenged the Russian propaganda claims, saying that “you are told that this blaze will bring freedom to the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free.”
At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called by Ukraine because of the imminent threat of a Russian invasion, members still unaware of Putin’s announcement appealed to him to stop an attack. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the meeting, just before the announcement, telling Putin: “Stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”
NATO Secretary-General Jen Stoltenberg issued a statement saying he strongly condemns “Russia’s reckless and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which puts at risk countless civilian lives. Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country.”
After Putin acknowledged the independence of the separatist territories on Monday and endorsed the deployment troops to them, anxiety over a Russian offensive rose. He also received approval from the Parliament to use military force in the foreign lands. The West responded with sanctions.
On Wednesday night, Ukrainian lawmakers approved a decree imposing a nationwide emergency for 30 days beginning Thursday. The measure allows authorities to declare curfews and other restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order.”
This action was a sign of growing concern from Ukrainian authorities, after weeks spent trying to project calm. The Foreign Ministry warned against traveling to Russia and recommended that all Ukrainians living there immediately leave.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday the Russian force of more than 150,000 troops arrayed along Ukraine’s borders is in an advanced state of readiness. “They are ready to go right now,” Kirby said.
According to an advisory to airmen, all airspace above Ukraine was closed to civilian traffic on Thursday morning. A commercial flight tracker website revealed that an Israeli El Al Boeing787 from Tel Aviv to Toronto abruptly left Ukrainian airspace and then detoured over Romania, Hungary Slovakia, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovakia. After Russia placed flight restrictions on Ukraine, the only aircraft that was tracked was an unmanned U.S. surveillance plane RQ-4B Global Hawk. It began flying westward around Thursday.
Another wave of distributed-denial-of-service attacks hit Ukraine’s parliament and other government and banking websites on Wednesday, and cybersecurity researchers said unidentified attackers had also infected hundreds of computers with destructive malware.
Officials have stated for years that they expect cyberattacks before and during any Russian military incursion. Analysts said the incidents were based on a nearly two-decade-old Russian strategy of marrying cyber operations with real world aggression.
Even before Putin’s announcement was made, many countries had already imposed sanctions against Russia. This further restricted the access of Russian banks and oligarchs to international markets.
Biden allowed sanctions to move forward against the company that built the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and against the company’s CEO.
Germany said Tuesday that it was indefinitely suspending the project, after Biden charged that Putin had launched “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” by sending troops into the separatist regions. The pipeline is now complete, but it has yet to start operating.
Before the Russian military attack against Ukraine started, the threat to war had already decimated Ukraine’s economic system and raised concerns about massive casualties, European energy shortages, and global economic chaos.
European Union sanctions against Russia were imposed. They targeted several companies as well as 351 Russian lawmakers, who voted for a motion to urge Putin to recognize rebel areas, and 27 senior government officials and business executives.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has shrugged off the sanctions, saying that “Russia has proven that, with all the costs of the sanctions, it is able to minimize the damage.”
Karmanau and Heintz reported on Kyiv. Angela Charlton was in Paris; Frank Jordans was in Berlin; Lorne Cull in Brussels; Frank Bajak, Boston; Robert Burns; Matthew Lee; Aamer Madhani; Eric Tucker; Ellen Knickmeyer; Zeke Miller; Chris Megerian; Darlene Superville, Washington; all contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine