Across the world, headlines are reporting the news: Russia is now invading Ukraine by land, air and sea, the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War Two.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said “I have decided to conduct a special military operation… to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide,…We will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.”
What happened exactly?
It began with a pre-dawn statement from Putin saying that Russia did not plan to occupy Ukraine and demanded that its military lay down its arms.
Moments later, Russian military vehicles, according to Ukrainian forces, breached the border in a number of places, at Kharkiv in the north, Luhansk in the east, Russian-annexed Crimea in the south and from Belarus too.
This is a full-blown war: Seven people were reported dead, 19 missing according to Ukrainian police. Ukraine’s military said it destroyed four Russian tanks near the eastern city of Kharkiv, killed 50 troops in the Luhansk region and downed a sixth Russian aircraft. Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian flights. Russia suspended the movement of commercial vessels in the Azov sea, officials said.
As Russian troops entered southern port cities, Ukraine reacted as all countries do in times of war. Martial law was immediately declared by President Zelensky who said in a video statement, “No panic. We’re strong. We’re ready for anything. We’ll defeat everyone because we are Ukraine.” He called on all citizens who were ready to defend the country to come forward, saying Kyiv would issue weapons to everyone who wants them.
As I write, sirens are blaring over Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, with a population of almost 3 million and crowds have sought shelter in the Kyiv underground. Expect cities to empty and the exodus has already started in Kyiv with traffic snarls as people seek to drive out. Shops across the country are full of people seeking to build food reserves and quickly emptied of their stocks.
Elsewhere – outside of Ukraine – neighboring countries are getting ready to receive Ukrainian refugees. Poland has called on the US army to help plan reception areas, and eight such points have already been set up. Expectations are that if there is a full invasion, up to one million refugees can be expected.
Stock markets are plunging. London is collapsing and European stocks plunged 3% as investors dumped riskier assets. Russia’s rouble hit an all-time low. But this is only the start – watch out for more as Wall Street opens.
The West’s reaction to the Ukraine war is swift. Today, US President Biden will meet with his G7 counterparts today to map out harsher measures against Russia; he said Washington and its allies would impose “severe sanctions” over what he called Putin’s “premeditated war”; EU leaders will hold an emergency meeting to discuss further sanctions; one official said that the European Union will freeze Russian assets, halt access of its banks to the European financial market and target “Kremlin interests” over its “barbaric attack”; NATO ambassadors will hold an emergency meeting; the U.N. Security Council will discuss a resolution condemning the invasion; European Central Bank policymakers gathered for what may have become a crisis meeting.
Expect Russia to be suspended from using the international SWIFT payments system – a real blow as such a move would totally isolate Russia economically from the rest of the world.
The big question is China. How will it react? So far, it’s calling everyone to calm down: It rejected calling Russia’s moves on Ukraine an “invasion” and urged all sides to exercise restraint.
As reported by AlJazeera, “You are using a typical Western media question method of using the word invasion,” Hua Chunying, spokesperson at China’s foreign ministry told reporters. “China is closely monitoring the latest situation. We call on all sides to exercise restraint to prevent the situation from getting out of control.” The Chinese embassy in Ukraine told its citizens in Ukraine to stay put at home as a precautionary measure, following the bombings of some Ukrainian cities.
Can China exercise restraint on Russia? Will Russia stop at the Donbas and refrain from a full invasion? The timeframe is very short now for Russia to conquer and consolidate its control over the two separatist regions – Donetsk and Luhansk – avoiding a full-scale war. Can it repeat the trick it played on the West in Crimea?
Reportedly, the operation in Ukraine is not popular in Russia:
Can anyone stop Putin’s crazy actions?
Featured image: People fleeing Kyiv this morning. Source: BBC