Ukraine urges citizens to leave Russia as crisis deepens
Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia on Wednesday as the region braced for further confrontations after President Vladimir Putin was given permission to use military force outside his country and that the West reacted with sanctions.
Hopes for a diplomatic exit from a potentially devastating new war in Europe appeared nearly crushed as the United States and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line by crossing the Ukrainian border into areas separatists – some calling it an invasion.
Russia began withdrawing personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine, the state-run Tass news agency reported, a day after the Foreign Ministry announced an evacuation plan, citing threats. On Wednesday afternoon, the Russian flag no longer flew above the embassy in Kiev and the police surrounded the building.
After weeks of trying to project calm, Ukrainian authorities also signaled growing concern on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry has advised against traveling to Russia and urged anyone to leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.
The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has called for a national state of emergency, subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it would be up to regional authorities to determine what measures to apply, but they could include additional protection for public facilities, traffic restrictions and additional transport and document checks.
These were just the latest in a series of signs of escalating tensions:
Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered severing all diplomatic relations with Moscow; dozens of nations further pushed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany has terminated a lucrative pipeline deal; the United States repositioned additional troops on NATO’s eastern flank on the border with Russia; and the top US diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.
Cyberattacks disrupt key sites
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s digital transformation minister said cyberattacks were disrupting government websites and those of some banks in his country. Mikhail Fedorov said on Wednesday that the distributed denial of service attacks targeted the websites of Ukraine’s parliament, cabinet and foreign ministry.
He said they have also caused interruptions or delays at the sites of the Ministry of Defense and Interior, which controls the police.
NATO blamed recent cyberattacks in Ukraine on Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU and warned further attacks were likely as tensions over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine mount.
Already, the threat of war has shredded Ukraine’s economy and raised the specter of massive losses, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.
Even as the conflict took a dangerous new turn, leaders warned it could escalate further. Putin has yet to release the force of 150,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine. US President Joe Biden has withheld even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia, but said they would go ahead if there were further aggression.
Ukraine calls for more sanctions, Russia bristles
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday called the European Union sanctions agreed the day before “a first step” and also said further steps could follow. Sanctions are essential because the West has ruled out attacking Russia militarily.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western leaders not to wait.
“We call on our partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now,” he said on Twitter on Wednesday. “Now the pressure has to be ramped up to stop Putin. Hit his economy and his cronies.
“Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”
Responding defiantly to the measures already taken, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said “sanctions cannot solve anything” in a statement on Facebook. “It is hard to imagine that there is anyone in Washington who expects Russia to review its foreign policy under the threat of restrictions.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry also bristled at the sanctions. “Russia has proven that with all the costs of sanctions, it is capable of minimizing the damage,” a statement read.
Meanwhile, a Russian-backed leader in Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk region said on Wednesday he would prefer to resolve issues over demarcation of the border with Kiev peacefully, but reserved the right to seek help from Russia.
Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, said he was in favor of dialogue.
The flow19:54Review of the effectiveness of sanctions against Russia
In eastern Ukraine, where an eight-year conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed nearly 14,000 people, violence has also escalated again. A Ukrainian soldier was killed and six others injured after the rebel shelling, the Ukrainian army said. Separatist officials reported several explosions in their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.
Meanwhile, in St Petersburg, several hundred people reportedly held a rally in support of the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, as Russia marked Defender of the Fatherland Day, which pays tribute to the country’s veterans and active military, and often sees displays of patriotism.
After weeks of escalating tensions, Putin this week took a series of steps that have dramatically raised the stakes, including:
- Recognize the independence of these separatist regions. Then saying that the recognition extends even to large parts of the territories currently held by Ukrainian forces, including the main Azov Sea port, Mariupol.
- Requesting and obtaining permission to use military force outside the country – thus formalizing Russian military deployment in rebel areas.
Putin laid down three conditions which he said were the only way out of the crisis: he called on Kiev to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to renounce its candidacy for NATO and to partially demilitarize.
The first two requests had previously been rejected by Ukraine and the West as non-starters.
Call for more dialogue from Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his call for talks with Putin on Wednesday. “Several times I suggested to the Russian president to sit down at the negotiating table and talk. It’s a question of dialogue, not a question of ‘conditions,'” he said after a meeting with the Polish and Lithuanian presidents. The Kremlin has brushed off such calls before.
Putin remained vague when asked if he had sent Russian troops to Ukraine and how far they could go, and Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said on Wednesday there were currently no Russian troops in the region.
Pushilin’s remarks contradict those of Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, who told reporters on Tuesday that Russian troops had already entered.