Russia evacuates embassy in Ukraine as crisis escalates
The U.S. and its key European allies claimed that Moscow crossed a redline Tuesday by rolling over Ukraine’s border into the separatist territories in Ukraine’s east. Some have called it an invasion.
Russia has evacuated its Ukrainian diplomatic post, Tass, the state news agency, reported. This was a day after threats were raised by the Foreign Ministry, which had announced that it would be evacuating. On Wednesday afternoon, police sealed off the Kyiv embassy and the Russian flag had stopped flying.
After several weeks of trying calmly, the Ukrainian authorities expressed increasing concerns. The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended any Ukrainians there leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council chief Oleksiy Danilov called for a national state of emergency, subject to parliamentary approval. It will remain up to the regional authorities to decide which measures should be applied, however, they may include traffic restriction, increased security in public buildings, and more transport and document inspections.
A senior U.S. defense official in Washington said the Russian forces arrayed along Ukraine’s borders are “as ready as they can be” for an invasion, with about 80% in what the U.S. considers “forward positions, ready to go” within 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers (3 to 30 miles) of the border.
According to the official who spoke under anonymity in order not to reveal sensitive information, he added. “We still cannot confirm that Russian forces have moved into the Donbas area.”
President Joe Biden allowed sanctions to move forward against the company that built the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and against the company’s CEO, the White House said.
Germany said Tuesday it was indefinitely suspending the project, after Biden charged that Putin had launched “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” by sending troops into two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine. While the pipeline is now operational, it is not complete.
“Today, I have directed my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers,” Biden said in a statement. “These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”
Biden lifted sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG last year, just as the project was nearly complete, in exchange for Germany agreeing to take action against Russia if that country used gas as a weapon against Ukraine.
Putin said Tuesday he hadn’t yet sent any Russian troops into the rebel regions contrary to Western claims, and Donetsk rebel leader Denis Pushilin insisted Wednesday there were no Russian troops in the region even though a local council member claimed the previous day they had moved in.
Ukraine’s Minister for Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said a wave of denial-of-service attacks targeted official websites and some banks Wednesday, knocking sites of the parliament, cabinet and Foreign Ministry offline and causing interruptions or delays to the sites of the defense and interior ministry, which controls the police.
Many of the same sites were similarly knocked offline in attacks last week that the U.S. and U.K. governments quickly blamed on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. These attacks flood websites with junk traffic and render them inaccessible. Wednesday’s DDoS attacks appeared to have less impact than the earlier onslaught, with targeted sites soon reachable again — as emergency responders blunted them.
This was just one of many signs that tensions are increasing. Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow; dozens of nations further squeezed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany halted a lucrative pipeline deal; the U.S. repositioned additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia; and the top U.S. diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.
Already, war threats have decimated Ukraine’s economy.
Yet, leaders were warning that it could escalate even though the conflict has taken a dangerous new turn. Putin has not yet unleashed the 150,000-strong force on Ukraine’s three sides, and the U.S. president Joe Biden did not push for tougher sanctions against Russia that could lead to economic instability. But he stated they would continue to do so if Russia continues its aggression.
The European Union imposed sanctions on Russia, which targeted several businesses, along with 351 Russian legislators who voted to urge Putin to recognize rebel areas, as well 27 high ranking government officials, executives, and military leaders.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the EU sanctions only “a first step” and said more could follow. The West has not ruled out taking action against Russia militarily so sanctions are important.
Dmytro Kuleba (Ukraine’s Foreign Minister) urged Western leaders NOT to delay.
“We call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now,” he tweeted Wednesday. Putin must be stopped immediately. His economy and his cronies. More. Hit hard. Hit now.”
Responding defiantly to the steps already taken, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov retorted on Facebook that “sanctions cannot solve a thing. It is hard to imagine that there is a person in Washington who expects Russia to revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry also resisted sanctions. “Russia has proven that, with all the costs of the sanctions, it is able to minimize the damage,” a statement read.
Violence has increased again in Ukraine’s eastern region, where a eight-year-old conflict between Russia-backed separatists (Ukraine forces) and Ukrainian forces have resulted in nearly 14,000 deaths. The Ukrainian military reported that one Ukrainian soldier died and six were wounded in rebel shelling. According to separatists, there was an explosion overnight that killed one soldier and injured six more.
At the same time, St. Petersburg witnessed several hundred protestors rallying in support of the Donetsk, Luhansk, republics of the east. Russia celebrated Defender of the Fatherland Day to honor its veterans and active soldiers.
Putin’s actions this week, after weeks of tensions rising, dramatically increased the stakes. He first recognized those regions’ independence. He said then that recognition extended to large portions of territories currently held by Ukrainian forces including Mariupol, the Azov Sea port.
Finally, lawmakers gave him authority to use military force outside the country — effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions.
Putin laid out three conditions that he said could end the standoff, urging Kyiv to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to renounce its bid to join NATO and partially demilitarize. Such demands were long rejected by Ukraine.
As rhetoric in Russia and the West toughened, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace recalled how the British army “kicked the backside” of Russia during the Crimean War in the 19th century. Russia’s Defense Minister Igor Konashenkov fired back, dismissing Wallace’s claims as “mythology” and advising British soldiers to study the history of Russia to avoid “enriching our shared military history with their lives for the pleasure of poorly educated British politicians.”
Litvinova reported on Moscow. Angela Charlton reported from Paris; Frank Jordans from Berlin; Lorne Cull in Brussels; Vladimir Isachenkov, Moscow; Frank Bajak, Boston; Robert Burns; Matthew Lee; Aamer madhani; Eric Tucker; Ellen Knickmeyer; Zeke Miller; Chris Megerian; Darlene Superville in Washington.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine