President Biden late Wednesday condemned an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” by Russia following reports of explosions in Ukraine and a bellicose speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering a wider war against Moscow’s smaller neighbor.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.
“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable,” the statement continued.
The president spoke just hours after an early-morning address by Mr. Putin ordering a “special military operation” to “de-militarize” Ukraine and protect two pro-Russian separatist enclaves inside Ukraine. Mr. Putin delivered the news virtually at the same time that an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting was being held in New York to try to head off war.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba gave the first confirmation from Kyiv that a major military attack was underway. The Ukrainian government for weeks had been playing down the odds that Mr. Putin was intent on a full-scale war.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Mr. Kuleba said on Twitter. “This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”
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Ukraine‘s Interior Ministry confirmed early Thursday morning that the capital was being attacked by Russian cruise and ballistic missiles. “Attacks are occurring in Kyiv, Odesa, Mariupol and other locations in Ukraine,” the ministry said in a statement.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who delivered a passionate, televised 10-minute plea — in Russian — Wednesday evening before the shooting started imploring Mr. Putin to call off the attack, announced he was imposing martial law across the country in response to the new Russian incursions.
President Biden and Mr. Zelenskyy spoke late Wednesday night, the White House said. In a statement, Mr. Biden said he was asked by his Ukrainian counterpart to call on world leaders to speak out against the Russian invasion. Mr. Biden said he’ll respond by imposing “severe sanctions” on Russia as soon as Thursday.
For his part, Mr. Zelenskyy said that international support was building for his country and urged Ukrainians to stay calm.
“No panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will win over everybody because we are Ukraine,” he said in a video statement posted on social media.
Mr. Biden plans a national address Thursday updating the U.S. response to the crisis. He is also scheduled to talk with leaders of the G-7 group of industrial democracies Thursday to coordinate actions to isolate and punish Russia.
“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he and first lady Jill Biden are praying for the “brave and proud people of Ukraine.”
Explosions were heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and other Ukrainian cities and all commercial flights over Ukrainian airspace were reportedly suspended Wednesday night. But there was no clear indication early on of how extensive the Russian campaign was and how many of the more than 150,000 Russian troops stationed on Ukraine‘s borders with Russia and Belarus were taking part.
Mr. Putin said he acted in response to what he said were threats coming from Ukraine and necessary to protect the Russian people.
The responsibility for any bloodshed is on the Ukraine government, Mr. Putin said.
In his speech, Mr. Putin warned that any nation attempting to interfere with the Russian military operation would suffer “consequences they have never seen.”
He also accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and pull back the Western alliance‘s forces more broadly from Eastern Europe near Russia‘s borders.
Russian state media reported Wednesday that separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk — two breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine — had asked Mr. Putin to provide military assistance, claiming they were under attack from the central government in Kyiv, which has staunchly denied the charges.
Earlier this week Mr. Putin escalated the Ukraine crisis by recognizing the independence of the two regions. The U.S. and European allies responded by imposing economic sanctions on Russia.
At the Security Council meeting, the U.N. chief issued an emotional plea to Russia not to attack Ukraine.
“If indeed an operation is being prepared I have only one thing to say, from the bottom of my heart: President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
A number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill also weighed in late Wednesday evening, condemning the Russian move and vowing to punish the Kremlin for its aggression.
Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat and the intelligence committee chairman, said in a statement late Wednesday night that Mr. Putin “has tragically brought decades of general peace to an end.”
Mr. Warner said there is now no “hope that this standoff will be resolved peacefully” and called on all “on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Atlantic,” to “demonstrate to Putin that this aggression will not be allowed to go unpunished.”
“What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy not only for Ukraine, but for the Russian people as well. They will pay a steep cost for Putin’s reckless ambition, in blood and in economic harm,” he said.
Idaho Sen. James Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Russia‘s invasion a “flagrant act of war.”
“These are not the actions of a proud nation and people, but the actions of a desperate man whose only desire is to sow chaos in order to make himself look strong,” Mr. Risch said of Mr. Putin.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, warned that Mr. Putin “will face the full wrath of the trans-Atlantic alliance for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and waging war on the Ukrainian people.”
She said Mr. Putin’s “malevolence” must be stopped by any means necessary.
“Every option must be placed on the table to stop Putin’s malevolence that not only threatens Ukraine and Eastern Europe, but the security of all liberal democracies around the globe,” she said.
Mr. Putin’s military endgame is not clear, even as he braces for a fresh barrage of economic sanctions promised by the U.S. and Europe. He said in his war declaration Thursday morning his aim was to demilitarize Ukraine and establish security in the Donbas region, but also said that “we do not intend to occupy Ukraine.”
• David R. Sands contributed to this article, which was based in part on wire service reports.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
• Guy Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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