A full-scale Russian military invasion of Ukraine began at 4am local time this morning. Missile strikes struck the capital, Kyiv, military bases and other cities including Kharkiv. It came not 48 hours after President Vladimir Putin recognized the Russian-occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent “People’s Republics” and finally positioned close to 100 per cent of the forces needed for an invasion on Ukraine’s border.
The Russian premier, who has control of a more than 6,000-strong nuclear arsenal, issued a chilling warning as tanks rolled into Ukraine: that any country that intervened to help Ukraine would face “consequences you have never seen in your history”.
Footage surfaced early on Thursday of frightened Ukrainian citizens queueing at banks and supermarkets, the main exits from Kyiv jammed with cars. The night before, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had issued an appeal to the Russian people not to believe Putin’s claims his people were “Nazis” or “aggressors”: “The people of Ukraine want peace. They’re telling you that this flame will liberate the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free.”
As expected the attack has prompted immediate reaction from Western powers and NATO members, with wide-ranging sanctions on Russian banks, individuals connected to Putin and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline already imposed by the US, UK, EU, Canada, Australia and Japan. Discussions on a further, united response are expected to take place today. Individual leaders have also condemned Putin’s actions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter: “I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskyy to discuss next steps. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The UK and our allies will respond decisively.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We will not let President Putin tear down Europe's security architecture. He should not underestimate the resolve and strength of our democracies. The European Union stands with Ukraine and its people. Ukraine will prevail.”
And, speaking after an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a particularly impassioned plea: “President Putin, in the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia.”
Not all countries, particularly Russia’s other clients in the East, have been as quick to denounce the ageing autocrat’s invasion of a sovereign territory. China has urged circumspection and restraint, at the time of writing, no single official from the Islamic Republic of Iran had publicly responded to the military onslaught.
Earlier this week on Monday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh seemingly tried to blame NATO and the United States for the situation, saying, "Unfortunately, US-centered NATO interventions and provocations have complicated the situation in the region."
State-run news agencies of the Islamic Republic have similarly sought to justify the assault on Ukrainian territory in recent days. In a news item entitled "Putin announces Launch of Russian Special Operation in Donbas", the IRGC-controlled Fars News Agency omitted to mention any of the open threats made by Putin against Ukraine and instead wrote: "Putin has said, 'All attempts by Russia to reach an agreement on NATO not advancing onto Russian territory have failed.'"
Tasnim News Agency, which is also owned by the Guards, also falsely tried to position Russia as a peacekeeping force in the region – and the officials working under Putin as having a choice in the matter. "The Russian Federation Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to the request of Vladimir Putin to use its armed forces abroad. Thus, the Federation Council allowed the Russian President to send troops to Donetsk and Luhansk (in southeastern Ukraine) in order to establish peace and security in the Donbas region and prevent further attacks on civilians.”