Russian President Vladimir Putin declares war in Ukraine; Biden condemns attack – live updates – USA TODAY

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  • President Vladimir Putin said Russia’s military operation in Ukraine is in response to threats.
  • He accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to stop Ukraine from joining NATO.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday condemned Russia’s “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine as he vowed that the world will hold Russia and President Vladimir Putin accountable.

“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said in a statement after Putin announced military action against Ukraine.

Biden said he will address the nation on Thursday to announce additional steps the U.S. will take beyond sanctions already imposed.

Just minutes before, President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address overnight on Wednesday that Russia will conduct a military operation in eastern Ukraine.

Putin said the action comes in response to threats coming from Ukraine. He added that Russia doesn’t have a goal to occupy the country. Putin said the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian “regime.”

Putin warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen.”

He said the Russian military operation aims to ensure a “demilitarization” of Ukraine. Putin said that all Ukrainian servicemen who lay down arms will be able to safely leave the zone of combat.

The announcement came as the UN Security Council was poised to meet in New York, in its secont emergency session of the week, this one called by Ukraine. 

Earlier Wednesday, a senior Pentagon official said that Russia has massed nearly all the forces – infantry, artillery, cruise and ballistic missiles – it will need to mount a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Those forces include two dozen warships in the Black Sea and represent nearly 100% of the combat power needed for a large-scale, said the official who briefed reporters but was not authorized to speak publicly. 

Russia has deployed more than 150,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders with “every indication” that they are poised for an imminent attack, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during a news conference Wednesday.

“They are ready to go right now,” Kirby said of Russian forces. “The blame for suffering from such an attack will rest solely with Russian President Vladimir Putin … “It will involve significant casualties and destruction. It will only cause instability on the European continent.”

The strategic movement of Russian forces came as Ukraine was poised to implement a 30-day state of emergency on Wednesday. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had called up military reservists, as Russia recognized two separatist regions as independent and appeared mobilized for major military action.

Zelenskyy said late Tuesday that Ukraine wants “silence” but noted it must act. “But if we remain silent today, we will disappear tomorrow.”

Zelenskyy in emotional address: ‘The people of Ukraine… want peace’

Just ahead of Putin’s declaration, Ukraine’s president rejected Moscow’s longstanding claim that his country poses a threat to Russia and warns that a looming Russian invasion could cause tens of thousands of deaths.

Zelenskyy made the comments in a video address early Thursday.

Speaking emotionally in Russia, he said: “The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace. But if we come under attack that threaten our freedom and lives of our people we will fight back.”

Zelenskyy says he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin late Wednesday but the Kremlin remained silent.

– Associated Press

Ukrainian airspace closed

Airspace over all of Ukraine was shut down overnight to civilian air traffic, according to a notice posted to air crews early Thursday, local time.

A commercial flight tracking website showed an Israeli El Al Boeing 787 from Tel Aviv to Toronto turned abruptly out of Ukrainian airspace before detouring over Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.

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Ukrainian FM: ‘Hit Russia’s economy hard’

Ukraine’s top diplomat says, “Russian aggression has brought the world to the edge of the largest catastrophe since World War Two.” He is urging the U.S. and its allies to “hit Russia’s economy now, and hit it hard.” (Feb. 22)


More: As Russian forces advance on Ukraine, US, allies escalate diplomatic efforts

Condemnation of Putin’s actions in eastern Ukraine

The Kremlin’s actions drew wide condemnation and major sanctions from the United States and European Union.

“Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday. And that served as the trigger for the U.S. to impose sanctions targeting Moscow’s banks and some elite individuals. Biden said Russia “will pay an even steeper price” if aggression continues.

On Wednesday, Biden announced new sanctions on the company overseeing the Russian-owned gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, as well as its corporate officers, in response to Moscow’s invasion.

More: Why is Vladimir Putin threatening Ukraine? Respect, fear, power at play in Russian leader’s motivations

Emergency meeting of the UN Security Council

The U.N. Security Council had scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday night at the request of Ukraine, which says there is an immediate threat of a Russian invasion.

The meeting comes two days after the 15-member council held an emergency open meeting also requested by Ukraine. That session saw no support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence for two separatist areas in Ukraine’s east and his announcement that Russian troops would be heading there to keep the peace.

The meeting Wednesday night comes as council diplomats are finalizing a draft resolution that they say would make clear that Russia is violating the U.N. Charter, international law and a 2015 council resolution endorsing the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace in eastern Ukraine.

They say the resolution would urge Russia to get back into compliance immediately.

— Associated Press

Blinken: Russia invasion could begin tonight

The U.S. has reason to believe Russia could begin a full invasion of Ukraine before the night is over, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told “NBC Nightly News” Wednesday.

“I do,” Blinken said when asked if he thinks that will happen. “Everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine.”

Pressed on whether Russia will attack Wednesday night, Blinken said he can’t “put a date or an exact time on it,” but “everything is in place for Russia to move forward.”

Maureen Groppe

More: The enigma of Vladimir Putin: What do we really know about Russia’s leader?

More: What is a false flag? US says Russia may use the tactic to justify Ukraine invasion

Biden imposes sanctions on company behind Nord Stream 2 pipeline

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he’s directed his administration to impose new sanctions on the company overseeing the Russian-owned gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, as well as its corporate officers, in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement. “As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”

The Biden administration blocked those sanctions from taking effect last year using a national security waiver, in a bid to repair U.S. relations with Germany, which relies heavily on Russia for its gas supplies. The not-yet-operational pipeline runs from Russia to Germany.

Wednesday’s move, made in coordination with America’s European allies, comes after Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday blocked certification of the natural gas pipeline that runs from Russia underseas to Germany.

Biden said, through Putin’s actions in Ukraine, the Russian leader has “provided the world with an overwhelming incentive to move away from Russian gas and to other forms of energy.

The company that owns the pipeline, Nord Stream 2 AG, is based in Switzerland and controlled by the Russian-based company Gazprom. The company is led by CEO Matthias Warnig, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nord Stream 2 has the capacity to handle 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year if it becomes operational, making it a major point of leverage for Europe and the U.S. over Russia.

Biden announced a raft of other economic sanctions Tuesday that include blacklisting two Russian financial institutions and its sovereign debt, along with penalties targeting a handful of “Russian elites” with close ties to Putin.

– Joey Garrison

More: How the Nord Stream 2 pipeline became a bargaining chip in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine

Russia evacuates diplomats from Ukraine, citing safety concerns

The Russian government has begun evacuating diplomats from Ukraine, according to Russian state media. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced an evacuation of diplomatic staff from Ukraine on Tuesday, citing safety reasons.

Diplomats in the Russian embassy in Kyiv, as well as consulates at Lviv, Kharkiv or Odessa, were evacuating are leaving the country, according to TASS News Agency, which is owned by the Russian government.

The agency confirmed that diplomats are burning documents and evacuating the country while the mission flags in Kyiv and Odessa have been taken down, according to on-the-ground reports.

In a Monday speech denouncing Ukrainian independence and identity, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two breakaway provinces in Ukraine’s east as independent countries and began sending so-called “peacekeeping” forces to the region.

In retaliation, the US and European countries announced a new round of severe sanctions on Russian elites, financial institutions and entities in the breakaway provinces themselves.

– Matthew Brown 

Ukraine official: cyberattacks disrupting government websites

Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation says cyberattacks are disrupting government websites and those of some banks in his country.

Mikhail Fedorov said Wednesday the distributed denial-of-service attacks targeted the websites of the Ukrainian parliament, Cabinet and foreign ministry.

He said they also caused interruptions or delays on the sites of the defense and internal affairs ministry, which controls the police.

NATO has blamed recent cyberattacks in Ukraine on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and warned further attacks were likely as tensions over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine mounted.

– Associated Press

Cyberattacks: A Russian invasion could reach farther than Ukraine. How a cyberattack could affect you.

China opposes US sanctions on Russia 

China on Wednesday accused the U.S. of creating “fear and panic” over the crisis in 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.

“When expanding NATO eastward five times to the vicinity of Russia and deploying advanced offensive strategic weapons in breach of its assurances to Russia, did the US ever think about the consequence of pushing a big country to the wall?” she tweeted.

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 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.

– Associated Press

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US, EU impose sanctions on Russia

The sanctions Biden outlined on Tuesday target two Russian banks, VEB and military bank Promsvyazbank, along with the penalties on the country’s sovereign debt. The Biden administration said those steps would be the most crippling.

The U.S. official described the first bank targeted by the U.S. as “a glorified piggy bank for the Kremlin that holds more than $50 billion in assets.” He said Promsvyazbank finances the activities of the Russian military. 

“That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western financing,” he said. “It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or the European markets either.”

Russian oligarchs were targeted, too, including: Aleksandr Vasilievich Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, and his son Dennis; Petr Mikhailovich Fradkov, chairman and CEO of PSB, or Promsvyazbank; and Sergei Vladilenovich Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff of the presidential office, and his son Vladimir.

Contributing: Michael Collins, USA TODAY; Associated Press