Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia on Wednesday as the region ready for a new confrontation after President Vladimir Putin received permission to use military force outside his country and the West responded with sanctions.
Hopes for a diplomatic exit from a potentially devastating new war in Europe appeared nearly dashed as the United States and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line crossing the Ukrainian border into areas separatists – with some call it an invasion.
Russia began withdrawing personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine, the state-run Tass news agency reported, a day after the Foreign Ministry announced an evacuation plan, citing threats. On Wednesday afternoon, the Russian flag no longer flew above the embassy in Kiev and the police surrounded the building.
After weeks of trying to project calm, Ukrainian authorities also signaled growing concern on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry has advised against traveling to Russia and urged anyone to leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.
The head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has called for a national state of emergency, subject to parliamentary approval. Oleksiy Danilov said it would be up to regional authorities to determine what measures to apply, but they could include additional protection for public facilities, traffic restrictions and additional transport and document checks.
These were just the latest in a series of signs of escalating tensions. Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered severing all diplomatic relations with Moscow; dozens of nations again pressed the Russian oligarchs and banks outside international markets; Germany halted a lucrative pipeline deal; the United States repositioned additional troops on NATO’s eastern flank on the border with Russia; and the top US diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.
Even as the conflict took a new and dangerous turn, the leaders warned it could get even worse. Putin has yet to unleash the force of 150,000 soldiers massed on three sides of Ukraine, while US President Joe Biden has withheld even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia, but said that would continue if there were further attacks.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday called the European Union sanctions agreed the day before a “first step” and also said further steps could follow. Sanctions are essential because the West has ruled out attacking Russia militarily.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western leaders not to wait.
“We call on our partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Now the pressure must intensify to stop Putin. Hit his economy and his buddies. Hit more. Hit hard. Strike now.
Responding defiantly to the measures already taken, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov retorted that “sanctions cannot solve anything” in a statement on Facebook. “It is hard to imagine that there is anyone in Washington who expects Russia to review its foreign policy under the threat of restrictions.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry also bristled at the sanctions. “Russia has proven that with all the costs of sanctions, it is capable of minimizing the damage,” a statement read.
In eastern Ukraine, where an eight-year conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces has killed nearly 14,000 people, violence has also escalated again. A Ukrainian soldier was killed and six others injured after the rebel shelling, the Ukrainian army said. Separatist officials reported several explosions in their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.
In St Petersburg, meanwhile, several hundred people reportedly staged a rally in support of the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, as Russia celebrated Defender of the Fatherland Day, which celebrates the nation’s veterans and serving military and often sees performances. of patriotism.
After weeks of escalating tensions, Putin took a series of steps this week that raised the stakes dramatically. First he recognized the independence of these separatist regions. Then he said the recognition extended even to large parts of the territories currently held by Ukrainian forces, including the main Sea of Azov port, Mariupol.
Finally, he requested and obtained permission to use military force outside the country, thus formalizing a Russian military deployment in the rebel regions.
Putin laid down three conditions which he said were the only way out of the crisis: he called on Kiev to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to renounce its candidacy for NATO and to partially demilitarize.
The first two requests had previously been rejected by Ukraine and the West as non-starters.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated his call for talks with Putin on Wednesday. “Several times I suggested to the President of Russia to sit down at the negotiating table and talk. This is a question of dialogue, not a question of ‘conditions,’ he said after a meeting with the Polish and Lithuanian presidents.The Kremlin has already dismissed such calls.
Putin remained vague when asked if he had sent Russian troops to Ukraine and how far they could go, and Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said on Wednesday there were currently no Russian troops in the region.
Pushilin’s remarks contradict those of Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, who told reporters on Tuesday that Russian troops had already entered.
—Dasha Litvinova, Yuras Karmanau and Jim Heintz, Associated Press