KYIV, Ukraine — Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting towns and bases with airstrikes or shelling as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. The Ukrainian government has said Russian tanks and troops are crossing the border in a “full-scale war” that could rewrite the geopolitical order and whose fallout has already reverberated around the world.
In unleashing the most aggressive action from Moscow since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, President Vladimir Putin deflected global condemnation and cascading new sanctions – and made chilling references to nuclear arsenals. from his country. He threatened any foreign country trying to interfere with “consequences you’ve never seen”.
Sirens wailed in the Ukrainian capital, large explosions were heard there and in other cities, and people crowded into train stations and took to the roads, as the government said the former Soviet republic was witnessing a long overdue invasion from the east, north and south. He reported that more than 40 soldiers had been killed and dozens injured so far.
The NATO alliance chief said the ‘brutal act of war’ had shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders who denounced the attack, which could cause mass casualties, overthrow the democratically elected government of Ukraine and disrupt the post-Cold War security order. . The conflict was already rocking global financial markets: stocks plunged and oil prices soared on fears that heating bills and food prices could soar.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has severed diplomatic relations with Moscow and declared martial law.
“To this day, our countries are on different sides of world history,” Zelenskyy tweeted. “Russia has gone down the wrong path, but Ukraine is defending itself and will not give up its freedom.
His adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said: “A full-scale war in Europe has begun. … Russia is attacking not only Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world.
The attack was aimed at a country the size of Texas that has increasingly leaned toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s grip. The autocratic Putin made it clear earlier this week that he saw no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of a possible wider conflict in the vast space the Soviet Union once ruled. Putin has denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain unclear.
Ukrainians who had long prepared for the prospect of an attack were told to stay at home and not panic despite dire warnings.
With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.
Associated Press reporters saw or confirmed explosions in the capital, Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and Kharkiv to the east. The AP has confirmed a video showing Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukrainian territory to the north from Belarus and from Russian-annexed Crimea to the south.
“We are facing a war and horror. What could be worse?” Liudmila Gireyeva, 64, said in Kiev. She planned to flee the city and try to travel to Poland eventually to join her daughter. Putin “will be damned by the history, and the Ukrainians damn it”.
Governments from the United States to Asia and Europe have prepared new sanctions after weeks of unsuccessful efforts for a diplomatic solution. But world powers have said they will not intervene militarily to defend Ukraine, although NATO has mobilized more troops to move to Eastern Europe.
Alliance member Lithuania, which borders Russian ally Belarus and a Russian enclave, has declared a state of emergency, and Moldova’s president has pushed to do the same.
“We woke up to a different world today,” said the German Foreign Minister.
After weeks of denying invasion plans, Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, saying the attack was necessary to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine – a false claim that the United States had predicted that it would be used as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the United States and its allies of ignoring Russian demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and obtaining security guarantees.
The attacks came first from the air. Ukrainian authorities later described ground invasions in several areas, and border guards on Thursday released security camera footage showing a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukrainian government-controlled territory from Ukraine- annexed Crimea. Russia.
The Russian military claimed to have wiped out all of Ukraine’s air defenses within hours, and European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone. Russia’s claims could not immediately be verified, nor could Ukraine’s claims that they had shot down several Russian planes. Ukraine’s air defense system and air force date back to the Soviet era and are overshadowed by Russia’s massive air power and precision weaponry.
US President Joe Biden has promised new sanctions to punish Russia for the “unprovoked and unwarranted attack”. The president said he planned to speak to Americans on Thursday after a meeting of Group of Seven leaders. Further sanctions against Russia were to be announced.
Zelenskyy urged world leaders to provide defense assistance to Ukraine and protect its airspace, and urged his compatriots to defend the nation. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pleaded: “The world can and must stop Putin. It’s time to act.”
In the capital, Mayor Vitaly Klitschko advised residents to stay at home unless involved in critical works and urged them to pack go-bags with necessities and documents if they have to evacuate.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister, said on Facebook that the Russian military had launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, airbases and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it did not target cities, but used precision weapons and asserted that “there is no threat to the civilian population”.
The consequences of the conflict and the resulting sanctions against Russia began to be felt around the world.
Global stock markets plunged and oil prices jumped nearly $8 a barrel. Market benchmarks fell in Europe and Asia and US equities were pointing to a sharply lower open. Brent crude oil jumped above $100 a barrel on Thursday on concerns over a possible disruption in Russian supplies. The ruble sank.
Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stern warning to other countries not to interfere.
In a reminder of Russia’s nuclear might, Putin warned that “no one should doubt that a direct attack on our country will bring destruction and horrific consequences for any potential aggressor.”
One of Putin’s promises was to “denazify” Ukraine. World War II is imminent in Russia, after the Soviet Union suffered more deaths than any other country fighting the forces of Adolf Hitler. Kremlin propaganda sometimes portrays Ukrainian nationalists as neo-Nazis seeking revenge — a charge historians call disinformation. Ukraine is now ruled by a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Putin’s announcement came just hours after Ukraine’s president dismissed claims from Moscow that his country posed a threat to Russia and launched an impassioned last-minute plea for peace.
“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Zelenskyy said in a moving speech overnight, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens.
Zelenskyy said he asked to arrange a call with Putin on Wednesday evening, but the Kremlin did not respond.
The attack began even as the UN Security Council was meeting to repel an invasion. Members who were still unaware of Putin’s announcement of the operation called on him to stand down. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the emergency meeting by telling Putin: “Give peace a chance.”
But a few hours later Jens Stoltenberg of NATO said it was too late: “The peace on our continent has been broken.
Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Raf Casert and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.