Western leaders are warning that Russia has set in motion its plan to launch a full invasion of Ukraine, while announcing the first round of sanctions against Moscow.
President Joe Biden described the unfolding events in Ukraine as “the start of a Russian invasion”, as he unveiled tough new measures on Tuesday to punish Moscow.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia was “committed” to a “full-scale invasion” of Ukraine, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “Putin has built up enough troops along Ukraine’s borders to be able to really completely invade the country”.
Here’s what you need to know.
What did Russia do? On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops in Donetsk and Luhansk – two separatist-held pro-Moscow regions in eastern Ukraine – as part of what the Kremlin has called a “peacekeeping” mission. This decision came just hours after the signing of the decrees recognizing the regions’ independence.
Several US and Western officials have warned that it could serve as the opening salvo of a larger military operation targeting Ukraine. Over 150,000 Russian troops now encircle Ukraine on three sides, according to US and Ukrainian intelligence estimates.
How did Ukraine react? Ukraine’s response to a potential attack “will be instantaneous,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Wednesday.
A state of emergency is expected to be introduced in all regions of Ukraine under government control, which will last at least 30 days.
But the government has not closed the door to a possible solution. On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was pursuing diplomacy as a way out of the crisis; reservists will be called up for military training, he said, but there will be no general mobilization of the armed forces.
“We desire peace and quiet but if we are silent today, tomorrow we will be gone,” he said in an address to the nation.
How did the world react? Russia’s actions have been strongly condemned by many countries, with Western leaders imposing new sanctions on Tuesday and cutting off a key pipeline with Russia.
Biden announced that the United States would sanction Russian financial institutions and oligarchs. The European Union also sanctioned 351 Russian lawmakers who voted to recognize breakaway regions, and the United Kingdom announced sanctions against five Russian banks and three Russian oligarchs.
Also on Tuesday, Germany said it had halted certification of an $11 billion, 750-mile pipeline that directly connects Russia to Germany. The Nord Stream 2 project was completed in September but has not yet received the final green light from German regulators. Without this, natural gas cannot flow through the Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany.
On Wednesday, Japan and Australia joined the list of countries to impose sanctions on Russia, Donetsk and Luhansk.
But China, which has enjoyed a strong friendship with Russia for years, has criticized Western sanctions. A Foreign Office spokesman said on Wednesday that they are “never a fundamental and effective means of solving problems”.