Russia declares war, launches attack in Ukraine; explosions reported

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Editor's note: This page recaps the news on the Ukraine-Russia crisis from Wednesday, Feb. 23. Read our live coverage for Feb. 24 for the latest news on Russia's declaration of war and military operation in eastern Ukraine.


President Joe Biden on Wednesday condemned Russia's "unprovoked and unjustified attack" on Ukraine as he vowed that the world will hold Russia and President Vladimir Putin accountable.

“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said in a statement after Putin announced military action against Ukraine.

Biden said he will address the nation on Thursday to announce additional steps the U.S. will take beyond sanctions already imposed.

Just minutes before, President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address overnight on Wednesday that Russia will conduct a military operation in eastern Ukraine.

UKRAINE UPDATES: Get the latest news on the Russia-Ukraine crisis delivered to your inbox

Putin said the action comes in response to threats coming from Ukraine. He added that Russia doesn’t have a goal to occupy the country. Putin said the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian “regime.”

As Putin spoke, big explosions were heard in Kyiv, Kharkiv and other areas of Ukraine.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: Russia just invaded Ukraine. What that could mean for energy prices, global security and more

Putin warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen.”

He said the Russian military operation aims to ensure a “demilitarization” of Ukraine. Putin said that all Ukrainian servicemen who lay down arms will be able to safely leave the zone of combat.

Ukraine's president declared martial law and urged citizens in the wake of Russia's military strikes.

More: 'Murkiness and doubt': Putin playbook meant to throw White House, allies off balance on Ukraine invasion

The strategic movement of Russian forces came as Ukraine prepared to implement a 30-day state of emergency on Wednesday.

Zelenskyy said late Tuesday that Ukraine wants "silence" but noted it must act. "But if we remain silent today, we will disappear tomorrow."

More: Biden says world will hold Putin accountable for 'unprovoked and unjustified attack' on Ukraine

'These dark hours'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen joined international condemnation of Moscow's attack and vowed to "hold the Kremlin accountable."

"In these dark hours, our thoughts are with Ukraine and the innocent women, men and children as they face this unprovoked attack and fear for their lives," she said in a statement.

The top European official warned earlier this week at the Munich Security Conference that Moscow could lose access to financial markets and blocked from access to major exporting goods should an invasion happen.

Courtney Subramanian

In this video grab taken from a handout footage made available on the official web site of the Russian President ( Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow early on February 24, 2022. - Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a "military operation" in Ukraine on February 24 and called on soldiers there to lay down their arms, defying Western outrage and global appeals not to launch a war.

U.K. prime minister on attack

U.K. Prime Minster Boris Johnson echoed other world leaders in a statement posted to Twitter saying he was "appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine."

Johnson said he spoke to Zelenskyy about next steps, adding the U.K. and allies would "respond decisively."

"President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine," he said. "The UK and our allies will respond decisively."

– Courtney Subramanian

Ukrainian foreign minister calls for action

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that "The world must act immediately. Future of Europe & the world is at stake."

He continued: "To do list: 1. Devastating sanctions on Russia NOW, including SWIFT 2. Fully isolate Russia by all means, in all formats 3. Weapons, equipment for Ukraine 4. Financial assistance 5. Humanitarian assistance"

– Luciana Lopez

Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya speaks on the phone prior to the United Nations security council's emergency meeting to discuss the threat of a full-scale invasion by Russia of Ukraine on February 23, 2022 in New York City. The Kremlin shared that two breakaway regions of Ukraine have requested protection. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appealed to the Russian people in a televised address stating "The Ukrainian people want peace."

Biden calls Ukraine's Zelenskyy

President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following the attacks across Ukraine.

Biden said the Ukrainian president reached out to him and the two discussed the steps the U.S. is taking to rally international support.

"He asked me to call on the leaders of the world to speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression, and to stand with the people of Ukraine," Biden said in a White House readout of the call.

The president confirmed he would impose "severe sanctions" on Russia after meeting with the leaders of Group of Seven leading industrial nations and allies.

"We will continue to provide support and assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," he added.

The call to Zelenskyy came after Biden was briefed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

– Courtney Subramanian

'A new geopolitical reality'

Ukraine Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko confirmed the attacks in a statement on his Facebook page.

"There have just been missiles on the military headquarters, airports, military warehouses, near Kiev, Kharkov, Dnieper," he wrote. "Gunfire at the border is underway."

"A new geopolitical reality in the world from today," he added.

– Courtney Subramanian

Biden briefed on secure call

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that Biden "was briefed on a secure call this evening by Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken, Secretary (of Defense Lloyd) Austin, Chairman (of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark) Milley and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan about the ongoing attack on Ukraine by Russian military forces."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister: "full-scale invasion"

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who met with Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Washington earlier this week, confirmed Putin launched a "full-scale invasion of Ukraine. "

"Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin," he tweeted. "The time to act is now."

Reactions pour in from global leaders

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russia's "reckless attack on Ukraine" and said NATO allies would meet to confront Moscow's latest move.

"This is a grave breach of international law & a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security," he tweeted.

Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to the U.N., called Putin’s attack “unprovoked and unjustified” and said the United Kingdom fully supports the U.S.’s UN Security Council resolution.

“This is a grave day for Ukraine and for the principles of the United Nations,” she said. “We and our partners have been clear that there will be consequences for Russia's actions.”

– Courtney Subramanian and Joey Garrison

'A tragedy': World reacts to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Zelenskyy in emotional address: 'The people of Ukraine... want peace'

Just ahead of Putin's declaration, Ukraine’s president rejected Moscow’s longstanding claim that his country poses a threat to Russia and warns that a looming Russian invasion could cause tens of thousands of deaths.

Zelenskyy made the comments in a video address early Thursday.

Speaking emotionally in Russia, he said: “The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace. But if we come under attack that threaten our freedom and lives of our people we will fight back.”

Zelenskyy says he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin late Wednesday but the Kremlin remained silent.

– Associated Press

Ukrainian airspace closed

Airspace over all of Ukraine was shut down overnight to civilian air traffic, according to a notice posted to air crews early Thursday, local time.

A commercial flight tracking website showed an Israeli El Al Boeing 787 from Tel Aviv to Toronto turned abruptly out of Ukrainian airspace before detouring over Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland.

More: As Russian forces advance on Ukraine, US, allies escalate diplomatic efforts

Condemnation of Putin's actions in eastern Ukraine

The Kremlin's actions drew wide condemnation and major sanctions from the United States and European Union.

“Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday. And that served as the trigger for the U.S. to impose sanctions targeting Moscow's banks and some elite individuals. Biden said Russia "will pay an even steeper price" if aggression continues.

A man carries bags and a bunch of tulips on a bicycle in Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point open daily, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 22, 2022.
A man carries bags and a bunch of tulips on a bicycle in Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point open daily, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 22, 2022.

On Wednesday, Biden announced new sanctions on the company overseeing the Russian-owned gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, as well as its corporate officers, in response to Moscow’s invasion.

More: Why is Vladimir Putin threatening Ukraine? Respect, fear, power at play in Russian leader's motivations

Emergency meeting of the UN Security Council

The U.N. Security Council had scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday night at the request of Ukraine, which says there is an immediate threat of a Russian invasion.

The meeting comes two days after the 15-member council held an emergency open meeting also requested by Ukraine. That session saw no support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence for two separatist areas in Ukraine’s east and his announcement that Russian troops would be heading there to keep the peace.

The meeting Wednesday night comes as council diplomats are finalizing a draft resolution that they say would make clear that Russia is violating the U.N. Charter, international law and a 2015 council resolution endorsing the Minsk agreements aimed at restoring peace in eastern Ukraine.

They say the resolution would urge Russia to get back into compliance immediately.

– Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 17, 2022. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is seated, background left.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the United Nations Security Council on Feb. 17, 2022. U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is seated, background left.

Blinken: Russia invasion could begin tonight

The U.S. has reason to believe Russia could begin a full invasion of Ukraine before the night is over, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told "NBC Nightly News" Wednesday.

“I do,” Blinken said when asked if he thinks that will happen. “Everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine.”

Pressed on whether Russia will attack Wednesday night, Blinken said he can’t “put a date or an exact time on it,” but “everything is in place for Russia to move forward.”

Maureen Groppe

More: The enigma of Vladimir Putin: What do we really know about Russia's leader?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, 2022.

More: What is a false flag? US says Russia may use the tactic to justify Ukraine invasion

Biden imposes sanctions on company behind Nord Stream 2 pipeline

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he's directed his administration to impose new sanctions on the company overseeing the Russian-owned gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, as well as its corporate officers, in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement. “As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”

The Biden administration blocked those sanctions from taking effect last year using a national security waiver, in a bid to repair U.S. relations with Germany, which relies heavily on Russia for its gas supplies. The not-yet-operational pipeline runs from Russia to Germany.

Wednesday’s move, made in coordination with America’s European allies, comes after Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday blocked certification of the natural gas pipeline that runs from Russia underseas to Germany.

Biden said, through Putin’s actions in Ukraine, the Russian leader has “provided the world with an overwhelming incentive to move away from Russian gas and to other forms of energy.

The company that owns the pipeline, Nord Stream 2 AG, is based in Switzerland and controlled by the Russian-based company Gazprom. The company is led by CEO Matthias Warnig, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nord Stream 2 has the capacity to handle 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year if it becomes operational, making it a major point of leverage for Europe and the U.S. over Russia.

Biden announced a raft of other economic sanctions Tuesday that include blacklisting two Russian financial institutions and its sovereign debt, along with penalties targeting a handful of "Russian elites" with close ties to Putin.

– Joey Garrison

More: How the Nord Stream 2 pipeline became a bargaining chip in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine

Russia evacuates diplomats from Ukraine, citing safety concerns

The Russian government has begun evacuating diplomats from Ukraine, according to Russian state media. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced an evacuation of diplomatic staff from Ukraine on Tuesday, citing safety reasons.

Diplomats in the Russian Embassy in Kyiv, as well as consulates at Lviv, Kharkiv or Odesa, were evacuating are leaving the country, according to TASS News Agency, which is owned by the Russian government.

The agency confirmed that diplomats are burning documents and evacuating the country while the mission flags in Kyiv and Odesa have been taken down, according to on-the-ground reports.

In a Monday speech denouncing Ukrainian independence and identity, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two breakaway provinces in Ukraine’s east as independent countries and began sending so-called “peacekeeping” forces to the region.

In retaliation, the US and European countries announced a new round of severe sanctions on Russian elites, financial institutions and entities in the breakaway provinces themselves.

– Matthew Brown

Ukraine official: Cyberattacks disrupting government websites

Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation says cyberattacks are disrupting government websites and those of some banks in his country.

Mikhail Fedorov said Wednesday the distributed denial-of-service attacks targeted the websites of the Ukrainian parliament, Cabinet and foreign ministry.

He said they also caused interruptions or delays on the sites of the defense and internal affairs ministry, which controls the police.

NATO has blamed recent cyberattacks in Ukraine on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and warned further attacks were likely as tensions over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine mounted.

– Associated Press

Cyberattacks: A Russian invasion could reach farther than Ukraine. How a cyberattack could affect you.

China opposes US sanctions on Russia

China on Wednesday accused the U.S. of creating “fear and panic” over the crisis in Ukraine, and called for talks to reduce rapidly building tensions.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China is opposed to new unilateral sanctions imposed on Russia, reiterating a longstanding Chinese position.

"When expanding NATO eastward five times to the vicinity of Russia and deploying advanced offensive strategic weapons in breach of its assurances to Russia, did the US ever think about the consequence of pushing a big country to the wall?" she tweeted.

She said the U.S. was fueling tensions by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, without mentioning Russia’s deployment of as many as 190,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Hua also did not mention efforts by the U.S., France and others to engage Russia diplomatically.

China-Russia ties have grown closer under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing earlier this month. The two sides issued a joint statement backing Moscow's opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan.

– Associated Press

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President Joe Biden arrives to speak about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, on Feb. 22, 2022, in Washington.
President Joe Biden arrives to speak about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, on Feb. 22, 2022, in Washington.

US, EU impose sanctions on Russia

The sanctions Biden outlined on Tuesday target two Russian banks, VEB and military bank Promsvyazbank, along with the penalties on the country's sovereign debt. The Biden administration said those steps would be the most crippling.

The U.S. official described the first bank targeted by the U.S. as "a glorified piggy bank for the Kremlin that holds more than $50 billion in assets." He said Promsvyazbank finances the activities of the Russian military.

"That means we've cut off Russia's government from Western financing," he said. "It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or the European markets either."

Russian oligarchs were targeted, too, including: Aleksandr Vasilievich Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, and his son Dennis; Petr Mikhailovich Fradkov, chairman and CEO of PSB, or Promsvyazbank; and Sergei Vladilenovich Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff of the presidential office, and his son Vladimir.

Contributing: Michael Collins, USA TODAY; Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russia declares war on Ukraine; explosions reported