Russia’s attack on Ukraine has led to the “darkest hours of Europe since the end of World War II”, say global leaders who have lined up to condemn Vladimir Putin’s actions – with the exception of China, which refused to characterisit as an invasion.
Mr Putin announced a full-scale military operation against Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday morning saying the “special military operation” was to “protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide… for the last eight years.”
He said he will “strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine. And to bring to court those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”
The invasion followed his decision to recognise Ukraine’s separatist regions, Donetsk and Luhansk, as independent territories and comes after weeks of warnings from international leaders about an imminent invasion.
The move has been roundly condemned by international leaders with Prime Minister Boris Johnson due to address the nation and slamming Mr Putin for choosing “a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”
US President Joe Biden said: “President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. 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.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen blamed Mr Putin for “bringing war back to Europe” as the bloc works to develop a new package of harsher sanctions on Thursday.
“We will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to key technologies and markets. We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernise. In addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the EU and stop the access of Russian banks to the European financial market,” she 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.”
European Commission Foreign Policy chief, Josep Borrell, described the move as “among the darkest hours of Europe since the end of World War II.”
“A major nuclear power has attacked a neighbour country and is threatening reprisals of any other states that may come to its rescue. This is not only the great violation of international law. It’s a violation of the basic principles of human co-existence,” he said. “It’s costing many lives with unknown consequences ahead of us.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, said if Europe does not respond resolutely it will pay an even higher price in future. She warned German citizens who can’t leave to stay in a safe place, as German Economy Minister Robert Habeck described it as a “flagrant breach of international law”.
“For Russia, this attack will have severe political and economic consequences,” he said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who had worked to broker a last-minute summit between Mr Biden and Mr Putin that was scrapped earlier this week, said “France strongly condemns the decision of Russia to start a war with Ukraine. Russia must immediately put an end to its military operations.”
Countries including Poland, India, the US, Germany and UK have ordered citizens to leave while neighbouring states like Finland and Poland are braced for refugees to enter.
China refuses to condemn invasion
Despite the near unanimous condemnation of Mr Putin’s actions, China has rejected a description of it as an invasion and called for all parties to urge restraint.
“You are using a typical Western media question method of using the word invasion,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said at a briefing on Thursday. “China is closely monitoring the latest situation. We call on all sides to exercise restraint to prevent the situation from getting out of control.”
China has been expected to back Russia in the event of an invasion but not militarily. Mr Hua said China would not provide weapons in the conflict but its local embassy warned the situation had deteriorated sharply.
China’s embassy in Kyiv warned the local situation has deteriorated and told people there to stick a Chinese flag on their car when heading out. “The Chinese flag can be affixed to an obvious place on the body of the vehicle,” the embassy said in advice to any nationals who decide to venture out.
Meanwhile former US President Donald Trump described Mr Putin as “genius” and suggested it wouldn’t have happened if he was still president.
Speaking to a conservative talk radio show earlier this week, Mr Trump described the decision to declare the Donbas regions as independent was “pretty savvy” and hit out at President Biden’s response.
“This is genius. Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” he said.
“So, Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper … Here’s a guy who’s very savvy.”
“By the way, this never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable.”