Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine and mobilized for a strong attack on Kiev, while Russia launched one of the largest military offensives in Europe since World War II.
After air and missile strikes, Russian troops launched attacks from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus, across its eastern border with Russia and south of Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia attacked and annexed in 2014.
Columns of Russian tanks and armored vehicles later entered the country from all three fronts, while fighter jets, airborne troops and dozens of helicopters attacked a key airport outside Kiev. Senior Western officials have warned that Russia is gathering “too much power” to take the capital, potentially in a few days.
Shocked by the intensity of the Russian attack, world leaders turned to their nations to condemn what they described as the biggest challenge to the post-war order in Europe in the last 80 years. “He has much bigger ambitions than Ukraine,” said Joe Biden, the US president. “He actually wants to re-establish the former Soviet Union. That’s what it’s about. “
Biden said the United States and its allies would impose new sanctions on Russia in response to Russian aggression. “Putin chose this war and now he and his country will bear the consequences.”
Roads from Kiev were congested with civilians fleeing the capitalwhile city officials ordered residents to seek refuge in basements and bomb shelters.
Volodymyr Zelenskythe Ukrainian president, called on “all who have combat experience” to arm themselves and resist the forces that attacked the country “just as fascist Germany did”.
The alarm over the conflict has flooded international markets, and the price of European natural gas contracts has jumped as much as 70 percent to 142 euros per megawatt-hour. Russia is a key producer of raw materials, with Europe relying on the country for about a quarter of its oil and more than a third of its gas.
Brent crude oil prices rose to more than $ 105 a barrel, the first time the international oil benchmark has crossed the $ 100 mark since 2014. But the price has fallen back to about $ 99 after the Biden administration announced a series of sanctions focusing on Russia’s financial sector, and not to its energy industry, which is an important supplier to many western countries.
The pattern of Russian incursions suggested that its forces aimed to advance south toward Kiev, while at the same time moving to encircle Ukrainian forces in the east, crossing the country from the Russian border to the Black Sea. Ukrainian authorities have reported numerous casualties in fierce fighting across the country.
A senior U.S. defense official said the initial campaign was “clearly designed to occupy key population centers,” with the intention of finally “cutting off the government” in Kiev.
Russian forces have called for control of the territory around the Chernihiv region in the north, Kherson in the south and around the capital Kharkov in the northeast, where some of the fiercest fighting took place on the first day of the conflict.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, condemned Russia for disturbing peace in Europe with a “brutal act of war”. In an emergency meeting, the US-led military alliance decided to deploy additional ground, air and naval forces to strengthen its eastern flank with Russia.
A U.S. defense official said the Pentagon would send another 7,000 U.S. troops to Germany. The purpose of the new deployment was to “convince NATO allies, deter Russian aggression and be ready to support a number of demands in the region.”
Addressing state television on Thursday morning, Putin said Moscow would “denazify” Ukraine and “defend” victims of “genocide,” despite no evidence of such crimes.
Referring to Russia’s nuclear arsenal, Putin warned other countries of the “temptation to interfere” and said the country’s response would “lead you to consequences you have never encountered in your history”.
Western leaders responded to the events with anger. The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Boris Johnson, promised sanctions in order to “restrain” Russia, while he called on the West to ensure that “this horrible and barbaric endeavor” ends in “failure”.
Europe is preparing for a humanitarian crisis after the invasion. Slovakia said its border with Ukraine was open to “all those fleeing this war”. The United States has warned that as many as 5 million Ukrainians could be displaced.
The Russian attack began with missiles, launched from land and sea, hitting a dozen airports across the country, including Kiev’s Borispil airport and facilities in the Black Sea port city of Odessa. U.S. defense officials estimate that 100 missiles were fired in the first attack.
By late morning, dozens of Russian helicopters had begun attacking Hostomel Airport in a suburb north of Kiev.
Ukrainian authorities say the country’s armed forces are resisting the invasion, making unconfirmed claims that they destroyed tanks, planes and helicopters. Russia has denied such losses.
Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser in Zelensky’s office, said that more than 40 members of the Ukrainian army were killed defending the territory and critical infrastructure.
Brussels will present “mass and targeted” measures to EU leaders for their approval at an extraordinary summit later Thursday, said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.
Russia claims this, based on little or no evidence Ukraine attacks separatist-controlled territories in Donbas, where more than 14,000 people died in the conflict that erupted after the annexation of Crimea.
On Friday, NATO will hold an emergency summit of the leaders of 30 of its members to discuss what the head of the alliance described as Russia’s “deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion of Russia by Ukraine.”
The United States has been warning for weeks that Putin is preparing for an invasion, after he deployed more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s border. Until recently, Russia has rejected claims that it has such plans.
At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council just before the Russian attacks, Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN, told his Russian counterpart: “There is no purgatory for war criminals. They’re going straight to hell. ”
Vasily Nebenzia, the Russian ambassador, replied: “This is not called war. It’s called a special military operation in Donbas. ”
Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopol and Aime Williams of Washington