World leaders reacted with outrage after Russian president Vladimir Putin declared the start of a military operation in Ukraine on Thursday morning, marking a new high in post-Cold War tensions.
Russia’s long-anticipated invasion was met with an outpouring of condemnation, with the European Union and other countries promising to slap unprecedented sanctions on the country after weeks of failed efforts to find a diplomatic solution.
European Union Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen called the assault an “unprecedented attack of aggression” by Russian leadership against a sovereign, independent country.
“Once again, in the centre of Europe, innocent women, men and children are dying or fear for their lives. We condemn this barbaric attack, and the cynical arguments to justify it.”
US president Joe Biden said Putin had “chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering” and that the world would hold Russia accountable.
Russia’s attack started on Wednesday after Putin announced in a pre-dawn televised address that he had approved “a special military operation”.
He said the aim was to demilitarise Ukraine and eliminate what he called a serious threat, alleging that the country’s government was responsible for eight years of genocide against its Russian-speaking residents in eastern Ukraine - a claim Ukraine dismisses and which there is no evidence.
He warned that any attempt by world leaders to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen before”.
Ukraine has officially cut diplomatic ties with Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky said martial law was being imposed across the country.
The news broke as the United Nations Security Council was holding an emergency session on the situation in Ukraine, rendering their efforts to dissuade Russia from sending troops into Ukraine moot.
The US will file a resolution on Thursday condemning Russia for having violated the UN charter and international law, and a resolution of the Security Council ratifying the 2015 Minsk agreements. However, the resolution is likely to be stopped in its tracks by Russia’s right to veto.
Speaking to journalists after the Council session ended, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called what happened the “saddest moment” in his tenure.
He made a plea to Putin to bring troops back to Russia “in the name of humanity” after the Russian president launched an invasion of Ukraine.
“Do not allow a war to start in Europe which could be the worst war since the beginning of the century with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation but with an impact we cannot even foresee,” Guterres added.
Tonight, I have only one thing to say, from the bottom of my heart:— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 24, 2022
President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine.
Give peace a chance.
Too many people have already died. pic.twitter.com/PPgmABZiKl
Already the nearly eight-year conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 16,000 people, including both combatants and civilians, and displaced around 1.5 million, and caused widespread damage & destruction of civilian infrastructure on both sides, according to figures cited by Human Rights Watch.