Ukraine has declared a state of emergency and informed its citizens in Russia to evacuate immediately, as Moscow began evacuating its Kyiv embassy in the latest ominous signs of an all-out Russian military fierce attack.
Shelling intensified on Wednesday at the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, where Vladimir Putin, Russian President, recognized the independence of two Moscow-backed rebel regions this week and where he has commanded the deployment of Russian troops as “peacekeepers”.
But there was still no clear signs of whether he intends to follow that up with a massed attack on Ukraine involving the tens of thousands of troops he has gathered close to his neighbor’s borders.
“Predicting what might be the next step of Russia, the separatists or the personal decisions of the Russian president – I cannot say,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Later on Wednesday, Ukraine’s parliament overwhelmingly signed Zelenskyy’s decree that enforces a state of emergency for 30 days beginning from today. The state of emergency allows authorities to enforce restrictions on movement, block rallies and prohibits political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order.”
The Ukrainian government has also declared compulsory military service for all men of fighting age.
Ukrainian government and state websites, which have experienced temporary suspension of operation in recent weeks faulted by Kyiv on cyber attacks, were again offline on Wednesday. Ukraine’s parliament, cabinet and foreign ministry websites were also affected.
Moscow debunks planning an invasion and has depicted warnings as anti-Russian hysteria. But it has taken no steps to withdraw the troops deployed along Ukraine’s frontiers.
On Wednesday, Russia took down flags from its embassy in Kyiv, having commanded its diplomats to leave for safety reasons.
The United States has portrayed Russia’s actions as the beginning of an “invasion”, but along with allies has so far revealed mostly incremental sanctions, while explaining they were keeping strict measures in reserve in case of a full-scale invasion.
As part of an initial tranche of sanctions, President Joe Biden stated that the US would enforce penalties on the company building Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
The European Union Penalty signed on Wednesday will add all members of Russia’s lower house of parliament who voted to recognize the separatist regions in Ukraine to a blacklist, freezing their assets and prohibiting travel.
EU leaders were due to hold an emergency summit later on Thursday to debate next steps.
The United Kingdom declared new restrictions prohibiting Russia from the issuing of new bonds in its security markets, and requested for its broadcasting regulator to probe Russia’s RT international television news channel as a propaganda outlet.
“There will be even more tough sanctions on key oligarchs, on key organizations in Russia, limiting Russia’s access to the financial markets, if there is a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.
The steps follow measures made known on Tuesday, including freezing the approval of a new Russian gas pipeline by Germany, and enforcing a new US penalty on Russian banks.
But none of the measures declared so far directly targets Putin himself, or is expected to have serious medium-term consequences for Moscow, which is sitting on more than $630bn in international reserves. The ruble fell, but not that much.
Western countries have been sounding a note of warning for weeks about the possibility of the bloodiest war in Europe for years. That has not materialized but the current threat remains, leaving policymakers to strife with calibrating their responses.
UN warns of dire global impact
A United Nations meeting on Ukraine on Wednesday heard that a full-scale Russian invasion of the country would have a damaging global impact that would likely cause a new “refugee crisis”.
The US stated that a war could displace up to five million people while Ukraine’s foreign minister noted that such a conflict would mark “the end of the world order as we know it”.
The dreadful warnings were made during a UN General Assembly session on “temporarily occupied Ukrainian territories” that has been held at UN headquarters in New York every year since Russia extended Crimea in 2014.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cautioned the body that “our world is facing a moment of peril” over the crisis.
“If the conflict in Ukraine expands, the world could see a scale and severity of need unseen for many years,” he said.
“It is time for restraint, reason and de-escalation,” Guterres added, emphasizing that there was no room for actions or comments that would “take this dangerous situation over the abyss”.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the general assembly hallUN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has notified the organization’s General Assembly of the perils of Ukraine’s crisis with Russia.
Fresh troops deployed
Ukraine’s military disclosed that a soldier had been killed and six wounded in increased shelling by pro-Russian separatists using heavy artillery, mortar bombs and Grad rocket systems in the two breakaway areas over the last 24 hours.
New satellite imagery revealed several fresh troop and equipment installment in western Russia and over 100 vehicles at a small airfield in southern Belarus, which borders Ukraine, according to US firm Maxar.
For months, Russia has exhibited the crisis mainly as a misunderstanding with the West, requesting security guarantees, including a promise never to allow Ukraine to join NATO.
But the recognition of the separatist regions was followed by much stronger language against Ukraine, including personally from Putin.
In a TV address on Monday, Putin rambled across centuries of history to characterize the Ukrainian state as an artificial construct wrongly carved out of Russia by its enemies.
Some who saw the speech said they now feel intimidated by a leader making decisions that no longer appear logical.
“In the case of Putin, this is not a struggle for money or power: It’s about pride, which means the mind is switched off. He can’t stop, and he can’t be stopped,” said Lilia, 72, a pensioner in the Kyiv suburb of Brovary.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated that Russia was heading down a path that would make it a global outcast, and implored it not to “completely isolate yourself worldwide”.
Diplomacy has now faltered. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian canceled separate meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
A summit between US President Joe Biden and Putin, floated by France at the start of the week, now seems unlikely.
Putin stated that he was always open to finding diplomatic solutions but that “the interests of Russia and the security of our citizens are unconditional for us”.