Ukraine announced plans Wednesday to declare a state of emergency, as the nation prepared to defend itself from an expected Russian invasion.
The 30-day state of emergency, subject to approval by parliament, would impose curfews and restrict mass gatherings in certain regions “if necessary” to confront increased Russian aggression, the chief of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said. It follows a call-up of reservists as Ukraine braces for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next moves.
Reacting to a first wave of U.S. sanctions after Russian troops deployed into two pro-Moscow separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, Russia warned that Americans will fully feel the “consequences.” President Biden has acknowledged that the crisis could lead to higher gasoline prices, while U.S. businesses have been warned to prepare for possible cyberattacks.
Here’s what to know
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Tuesday night that he was calling up the country’s military reservists after Russian lawmakers voted to give Putin the authority to send troops into eastern Ukraine.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday canceled a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov scheduled for later in the week, saying the Kremlin’s moves against Ukraine demonstrated that it is not “serious” about diplomacy.
- Russia has cautioned Ukraine against cutting off diplomatic ties after Zelensky said Tuesday he was weighing a request from his Foreign Ministry to sever relations after Moscow decided to recognize two breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine.
UNDERSTANDING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS
Leaders of Poland, Lithuania call for ‘robust’ sanctions against Russia, back Ukraine for E.U. membership
By David L. Stern10:57 a.m.
LVIV, Ukraine — The leaders of Poland and Lithuania joined Ukraine in calling Wednesday for the “swift introduction of robust package of sanctions” against Moscow and expressing support for Ukraine’s candidacy to become a member of the European Union.
In a joint statement after a meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, Poland’s Andrzej Duda and Lithuania’s Gitanas Nauseda also expressed the “strongest condemnation” of Russia’s decision to recognize two pro-Moscow separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
“We call upon the international community to take resolute and far-reaching steps in response to this yet another act of aggression committed by Russia against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the three presidents said.
These would include further measures against the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, the statement said. Berlin announced Tuesday it was freezing the certification process for the project, in response to Moscow’s recognition of the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In their statement, Duda, Nauseda and Zelensky also said that Ukraine “deserves E.U. candidate status” and that Poland and Lithuania would “support Ukraine in achieving this goal.”
After the presidents’ meeting, Duda said at a joint news conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions were a threat “not only to Ukraine, but to our entire region, in particular to the eastern flank of NATO and the entire European Union.”
“We must say a clear stop to Russia’s neo-imperial policy,” Duda added.
Russia threatens tough response to Western sanctions
MOSCOW — Russia’s Foreign Ministry vowed a “tough response” Wednesday to Washington’s sanctions package that hit Russian sovereign debt and two banks that finance infrastructure and defense.
The package also targeted Russian elites and their families.
Russia’s response measures would not necessarily be symmetrical but would be “well-grounded” and painful, the ministry said in a statement. It said Russia has proved it could withstand the impact of all previous Western sanctions packages.
The ministry said that the U.S. policy of trying to change Russia’s course through repeated sanctions amounted to “blackmail, intimidation and threats,” adding that this would not work with a global power such as Russia.
The United States’ reliance on sanctions showed its foreign policy to be “trapped in the stereotypes of a unipolar world with a false belief that the U.S. still has the right and the ability to impose its own rules of the world order,” the statement said.
Invoking Cold War rhetoric, it said the United States is being emulated by “satellites and clients, who have completely lost their independence.”
After Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a meeting this week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the ministry said Russia was still “open to diplomacy based on the principles of mutual respect, equality and consideration for each other’s interests.”
White House defends ‘first tranche’ of sanctions as Ukraine urges more
The White House is defending a first round of sanctions on Russia as Ukraine pushes for more.
“Let me just be really clear: We did hit hard yesterday, and it was only a demonstration effect,” Daleep Singh, a deputy national security adviser, said Wednesday during an appearance on CNN.
On Tuesday, Biden announced a “first tranche” of U.S. sanctions against Russia that targets two financial institutions, Russian sovereign debt, and Russian elites and their family members.
During the CNN interview, Singh was asked to respond to a tweet from Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, urging the United States and its European allies to hit harder.
Singh said some of the media seem to have a “bloodlust” for imposing sanctions.
“But the point the Ukrainians are making is right,” Singh said. “These costs are going to escalate from here.”
Singh argued that the “signaling of sanctions” alone had already taken its toll on Russia’s economy, adding: “And now we’re starting to deliver.”
“Yesterday was a demonstration effect,” he said. “And that demonstration effect will go higher and higher. Russia is already feeling the pain, and let’s remember the bigger purpose. Our purpose is not to max out on sanctions. That serves no purpose to itself. Our purpose is to prevent a large-scale invasion and … seizure of large cities in Ukraine. Our purpose is to prevent human suffering that could involve tens of thousands of casualties. And our purpose is to prevent a puppet regime from taking over in Kyiv that bends to the will of Moscow. That’s what this is all about.”
Singh also urged caution in judging the impact of U.S. and European sanctions, saying, “Day 1 is not the way to judge whether it’s working.”
“Our purpose here is to make this as costly a strategic choice as possible for Russia,” he said. “We think we have the winning hand.”
E.U. to unveil strategy to free itself from Russian gas after decades of dependence
For years, Europe’s dependence on Russian energy has held it back from taking powerful action against Kremlin mischief. But now, the Russia-Ukraine crisis is forcing a change unlike any before, driving the European Union to make plans for a permanent, far-reaching break from Russian oil and gas, European policymakers said.
The strategy to split from Russian energy, expected to be announced by the European Commission next week, would give Europe a freer political hand against Russia than it has had in the past. It would take years and come with a hefty bill for European taxpayers. But it has the crucial backing of Germany, a nation so entangled with Russia that one of its former chancellors, Gerhard Schröder, is the chairman of Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil company.
The European Commission’s planned strategy next week aims to accelerate a transition to renewable energy so that Europe never again is so dependent on the Kremlin to keep households warm and factories humming.
Germany could get gas beyond Russian imports, economy minister says
Germany could get enough natural gas without Russian imports if necessary, the economy minister said Wednesday after Berlin announced it would halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Moscow.
Still, he cautioned against speculation and added that energy relations with Russia have survived other crises in the past. “The possibility that Germany gets enough gas and resources beyond Russian gas imports is there,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told public radio Deutschlandfunk.
The minister said Germany’s gas supply is secure and that consumers would get relief if prices shoot up. Habeck also noted that freezing the certification process for the $11 billion pipeline project did not necessarily mean it could never happen. But he maintained that the country must examine whether relying on gas flowing through a pipeline from Russia would make supplies more vulnerable.
The question of halting the multiyear pipeline plan had become a sticking point between the United States and Germany in recent weeks as Western governments pledged to respond to Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine. Moscow’s latest moves — notably recognizing two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states and sending in troops to reinforce pro-Moscow separatists there — triggered a round of Western sanctions this week and prompted the German decision on the natural gas pipeline.
Ukraine plans state of emergency as it prepares national defense
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, announced plans Wednesday for a state of emergency, as the nation prepared to defend itself after Russian lawmakers approved President Vladimir Putin’s call to send troops to regions of eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s parliament also passed a law to allow people to carry firearms for defense.
Danilov said that under the state of emergency, curfews would be imposed in certain regions only “if necessary, in the event of increased Russian aggression.”
The 30-day state of emergency, which must be confirmed by parliament, allows Ukraine to impose curfews and restrictions on mass gatherings in certain regions. It does not apply to the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk that were recognized by Putin on Monday as independent states and where fighting broke out when Russia backed separatist rebels there in 2014. Two-thirds of the territory is under Kyiv’s control, and the rest is under insurgent control.
Putin’s move to recognize the regions in their entirety, not just the areas under rebel control, has sharply raised the risks of a major military escalation.
Danilov rejected Putin’s accusation that Ukraine might develop nuclear weapons, a charge used by Putin to try to justify his actions against Ukraine.
Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in 1994 in return for guarantees in the Budapest Memorandum from Russia, the United States and Britain that they would not attack Ukraine.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said NATO membership would offer more protection for Ukraine than the memorandum.
He called for a summit of the signatories to the 1994 accord, demanding affirmation of its security guarantees. Otherwise, he warned, Ukraine could conclude that the Budapest agreement is not working.
Putin’s plans stir worries, defiance in Ukrainian city on Russia’s doorstep
KHARKIV, Ukraine — About 50 miles from where Russian troops and tanks are massed, a group of Ukrainians put their hands over their hearts, held up flags and sang the country’s national anthem.
“Glory to Ukraine, glory to heroes,” they said in unison Tuesday, before adding a crude quip about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Activists in Kharkiv always meet on Feb. 22 — what they call Patriots’ Day — to commemorate the city’s stand against Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who fled here eight years ago during the Maidan revolution that cemented Ukraine’s political bonds with the West. The day is also used to remember victims of the 2015 Kharkiv bombing, which took place during a rally to mark the anniversary of the uprising.
But this year’s demonstration was also an act of defiance just a day after Putin delivered a speech challenging Ukraine’s legitimacy as a sovereign state and recognized two Russian-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region as independent.
Trump’s remarks on Putin’s ‘genius’ slammed by Cheney, White House
Former president Donald Trump’s remarks describing the Kremlin’s aggression toward Ukraine as “genius” have been panned by both Republican and Democratic critics, with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) writing on Twitter that Trump’s “adulation” of Russian President Vladimir Putin “aids our enemies.”
In a Tuesday interview with “The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show,” a conservative radio program, Trump said he was impressed by news of Putin’s move to recognize two breakaway regions of Ukraine and deploy troops into the rebel-held territory.
“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius,’” Trump said. “So, Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’” he added.
Cheney, a Trump critic who was recently censured by the Republican National Committee, wrote that “Trump’s interests don’t seem to align with the interests of the United States of America.” She earlier called for crippling sanctions against Russia.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), another outspoken critic of the former president and his grip on the GOP, wrote on Twitter that “Trump is a sick man.” Kinzinger was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach the former president after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, and, along with Cheney, was one of two Republicans sitting on a select committee tasked with investigating the attack. He announced in October that he will not run for reelection in 2022, after serving in Congress for six terms.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also dismissed Trump’s comments Tuesday evening, telling reporters: “As a matter of policy, we try not to take advice from anyone who praises President Putin and his military strategy.”
Some Trump associates, such as former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, on Tuesday criticized President Biden for being weak on Russia. Others, such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson, suggested the United States should not be involved in the conflict.
Ukraine urges citizens to leave Russia immediately, sanctions Duma lawmakers
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday urged its citizens in Russia to leave immediately, after Moscow’s deployment of troops into disputed parts of eastern Ukraine heightened tensions.
The travel advisory also recommended that Ukrainians not travel to Russia and warned that the escalating crisis could restrict Kyiv’s ability to protect citizens and provide consular assistance in Russia.
On Wednesday, the Rada, Ukraine’s legislature, approved sanctions on 351 people, including Russian lawmakers who supported the formal recognition of two pro-Moscow separatist territories in the east. The restrictions include a ban on entry to Ukraine and block access to assets such as property and business licenses. The Rada also voted to allow civilians to carry firearms for self-defense purposes.
The Russian troop buildup and movements at the border have triggered a round of Western sanctions, which Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Wednesday as “first decisive steps.” He said his country was grateful even as he urged allies to impose more penalties.
“Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now,” Kuleba tweeted. He said earlier that President Biden has promised Ukraine more defensive weapons.
Invoking Russian military patriotism, Putin says security interests are ‘nonnegotiable’
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin reinforced his theme of patriotic military nostalgia Wednesday, reviving memories of battles against Western invaders going as far back as 1612 to underscore his determination to remake Europe’s security architecture and bar Ukraine from joining NATO.
In a speech greeting war veterans on Russia’s Defender of the Fatherland Day, he warned that Moscow’s demands for security guarantees “remain unanswered.” Putin added that while Russia was open to dialogue, “the interests of Russia, the security of our citizens, are nonnegotiable for us.”
He said the international order is fraught with dangers for Russia and pledged to keep developing advanced weapons such as hypersonic missiles, citing NATO military activity.
As president, Putin has focused on military patriotism and traditional values — which he says are threatened by the West — as he rebuilt the Russian state and armed forces. His references to past invasions were no accident.
“At the heart of the military history of our thousand-year-old country, its glory and victories have always been patriotism and unity of the people, the feat of its sons and daughters devoted to the Fatherland,” Putin said in a video address.
He referred to the 1612 Battle of Moscow against Poland, the 1812 Battle of Borodino against Napoleon’s invading forces and the 1945 capture of the Reichstag in Berlin by Soviet soldiers in World War II.
Notably, he also referred to the 1709 Battle of Poltava — which took place in what is now Ukrainian territory — when Czar Peter the Great defeated Sweden, launching Russia as a strong European imperial power. Political analysts have said Putin sees himself as a modern Peter the Great, with a mission to restore Russia as a great power.
“Your feat is a pinnacle in the history of mankind,” he said, “a great example for all who today serve in the army and navy, on land, in the air, at sea, protecting Russia from external threats.”
Britain pledges to ‘inflict even more pain’ if Russia launches ‘full-scale’ invasion
The United Kingdom will impose more sanctions on Russia if President Vladimir Putin launches a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced what he called a “first barrage” of British sanctions on Tuesday, after Putin ordered Kremlin forces into two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that Moscow formally recognized as independent.
The escalation, which U.S. and European officials saw as the opening stages of a wider invasion, triggered British measures against five Russian banks and three Russian billionaires who are members of Putin’s inner circle. The British move came as the White House announced a round of sanctions to limit Moscow’s access to financial markets. The European Union, meanwhile, said it would target people and entities including members of Russia’s State Duma who voted for formally recognizing the disputed territories.
“The message that we are sending to Vladimir Putin and his regime is that we will inflict even more pain in the event of a full incursion into Ukraine,” Truss said in an interview with Sky News. She also said that Britain would stop the Russian government from raising sovereign debt in London’s financial markets.
“We have more individuals that we will target … to make sure that these people can’t travel, that their assets are frozen, and that they will have nowhere to hide,” she said.
Psaki says summit between Biden and Putin ‘not in the plans’
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that President Biden has no plans to participate in a summit with Putin, hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a meeting with his Russian counterpart that was to be held later this week.
“Diplomacy can’t succeed unless Russia changes course,” Psaki said. “And as [Blinken] said, it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to have a meeting with his counterpart at this point in time, Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov. And it was always intended that any engagement with President Putin would follow that. So at this point, that is certainly not in the plans.”
Biden had previously agreed “in principle” to meet with Putin. But Psaki said Tuesday that Russia would have to de-escalate its actions in Ukraine to put a meeting between Biden and Putin back on the table.
“De-escalation means moving troops,” Psaki said when asked to specify what actions the United States would need to see from Russia to host a meeting. “It means de-escalating from … the steps they continue to take on a daily basis.”
Psaki noted that the Blinken’s decision to call off the Geneva meeting with Lavrov did not signify an end to a diplomatic approach to the crisis.
Blinken cancels meeting with Russian foreign minister, saying Kremlin is not serious about diplomacy
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday canceled a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov scheduled for later in the week, saying the Kremlin’s moves against Ukraine demonstrated that it is not “serious” about diplomacy.
“It does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time,” said Blinken during a news briefing at the State Department alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
The top U.S. diplomat said the State Department would continue to try to avert “an even worse” situation, such as an “all-out assault of Ukraine,” including major cities and the capital, Kyiv. But Blinken said he would not meet Lavrov unless Moscow changes its “approach.”
The move signals a pivot for the Biden administration from seeking dialogue with the Kremlin to pursuing punitive measures for sending troops into eastern Ukraine’s separatist-controlled regions.
Ukraine’s foreign minister praised the sanctions the United States imposed on Russia on Tuesday but implored the West to put in place even more-punishing measures. “Hit Russia’s economy now, and hit it hard,” Kuleba said.
When asked whether Ukraine has verified that Russia has compiled a list of Ukrainians to kill or send to camps after an invasion, Kuleba said Ukraine does not have the list but that “I wouldn’t exclude that such a list can exist.”
Blinken’s decision to call off the meeting appeared likely after Tuesday’s cancellation of another appointment between Lavrov and the foreign minister of France, the European power that has worked the hardest to encourage dialogue between Russia and the West.
The meeting was set to take place in Geneva.
Japan joins the West in sanctioning Russia
TOKYO — Japan announced Wednesday that it would join its Western allies in imposing economic sanctions on Russia, as it called on the Kremlin to return to diplomatic negotiations to resolve the Ukraine crisis.
Japan will suspend the issuance of visas and freeze the assets of individuals connected to the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, ban imports and exports for the two regions, and ban the sale of Russian sovereign debt in Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday.
The specifics of the new sanctions have not been announced, but they are expected to be largely symbolic. Several analysts struggled to identify whether, or how much, Russian debt is issued in Japan. In addition, Japan currently is not issuing new visas to foreigners due to its coronavirus border lockdown, so the visa ban is not unique to the two breakaway regions.
Still, the measures reflect Japan’s desire to show it is in lock-step with the international community in responding to Russia, similar to its decision in 2014 to issue symbolic sanctions after Moscow annexed Crimea. Kishida said Tuesday that the Japanese government would coordinate a “tough” response with Western allies.
At a news conference Wednesday, Kishida said he does not see a significant impact from the Ukraine crisis on energy supplies in the short term and that the government plans to take further action if the situation worsens.
Kishida declined to answer when asked if the Japanese government views Russia’s actions as an invasion. He has said Japan “strongly condemns” Russia’s actions, which he also called a “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”