Russia mobilizes to attack Kyiv as its troops storm Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s forces are mobilizing for a crushing assault on Kiev after Russia stormed Ukraine and unleashed one of Europe’s biggest military offensives since World War II.

After airstrikes and missiles, Russian troops launched attacks from Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus, across its eastern border and south from Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Moscow invaded and annexed in 2014 .

Columns of tanks and armored vehicles entered the country from all three fronts, while fighter jets, airborne troops and dozens of helicopters attacked a critical airport outside Kiev. Senior Western officials have warned that Russia is mustering an “overwhelming force” to take the capital, potentially within days.

Two large explosions were heard in central Kyiv in the early hours of Friday morning, a Financial Times reporter noted, as the capital came under increasing attack from Russian forces. Ukrainian ground forces said Russia fired on peaceful areas of Kiev but the strike was intercepted.

Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, said “enemy saboteur groups” had entered Kiev and Russia planned to assassinate him.

“According to our information, the enemy has identified me as the number one target. My family is target number two. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” he said.

Shocked by the ferocity of Russia’s assault, world leaders have addressed their nations in condemning what they have called the most significant challenge to Europe’s post-war order for 80 years. “[Putin] has much bigger ambitions than Ukraine,” said Joe Biden, US President. “He actually wants to restore the former Soviet Union. That’s what it’s about.

Biden said the United States and its allies would impose new sanctions in response to Russia’s aggression. “Putin chose this war and now he and his country will suffer the consequences.”

Roads out of Kiev were blocked by civilians fleeing the capital, while city authorities ordered residents to seek shelter in basements and bomb shelters.

Zelensky called on “everyone with combat experience” to take up arms and resist the forces that had invaded “just like fascist Germany”. He then ordered a full mobilization of the army.

Ukraine’s president said 137 Ukrainians were killed in Thursday’s fighting. Russian forces have lost more than 30 tanks, up to 130 armored vehicles, seven planes and six helicopters, according to the Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valeriy Zaluzhny. He estimated that between 30,000 and 60,000 Russian troops were on Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said as of 3 a.m. Friday, its forces had killed around 800 “enemy” soldiers since the start of the Russian offensive.

Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the invasion in a phone call, the Kremlin said, the Russian president’s first conversation with a Western leader since recognizing breakaway states in eastern Russia. Ukraine and launched a full assault on the country.

The leaders had a “serious and frank exchange of views on the situation in Ukraine,” the Kremlin said in a statement. “Vladimir Putin gave detailed explanations of the causes and circumstances of the decision to launch a special military operation. It was decided to keep in touch.

A French official said Macron called Putin just before an EU summit in Brussels to demand “an immediate halt to Russian military operations and reminded him that Russia faces massive sanctions”.

In a televised address, Zelensky, who said he remained in Kyiv, thanked Western leaders for their support but questioned their willingness to go further. “Who is ready to fight with us? Honestly, I don’t see anyone. . . I ask them, are you with us?

Alarm over the conflict has rattled international markets, with the price of European natural gas contracts jumping 70% to €142 per megawatt hour. Russia is a major commodity producer, with Europe depending on the country for around a quarter of its oil and more than a third of its gas.

Brent crude prices hit over $105 a barrel, the first time the international oil benchmark has crossed the $100 threshold since 2014. The price fell back to around $99 after the Biden administration announced a series of sanctions focused on the Russian financial sector, rather than its energy industry, which is an important supplier for many Western countries.

But in Asia on Friday morning, oil prices rallied back above $100, with Brent crude up 2.6% to $101.61 a barrel.

Video: Russia begins invasion of Ukraine

The pattern of Russian incursions suggested that his forces aimed to advance south towards Kiev while simultaneously encircling Ukrainian forces to the east by cutting across the country from the Russian border to the Black Sea. Ukrainian authorities have reported dozens of casualties in fierce fighting across the country.

A senior US defense official said the initial campaign was “clearly designed to take key population centers”, with the intention of eventually “decapitating the government” in Kyiv.

Russian forces pushed for control of territory around the regions of Chernihiv in the north, Kherson in the south and the major northeastern city of Kharkiv, which saw some of the heaviest fighting on the first day of the clashes.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, condemned Russia for having broken the peace in Europe by a “brutal act of war”. In an emergency meeting, the US-led military alliance decided to deploy additional ground, air and sea forces to bolster its eastern flank with Russia.

A US defense official said the Pentagon would send 7,000 more troops to Germany. The purpose of the deployment was to “reassure NATO allies, deter Russian aggression and be ready to meet a range of demands in the region”.

In an address on state television Thursday morning, Putin said Moscow would “denazify” Ukraine and “defend” the victims of “genocide”, although there is no evidence of such crimes.

Europe is preparing for a humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the invasion. Slovakia has said its border with Ukraine is open to “all people fleeing this war”. The United States has warned that up to 5 million Ukrainians could be displaced.

Volodymyr Zelensky during his address to the nation on Thursday
Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine, delivers a televised address to the nation on Thursday © Ukrainian Presidential News Service/Reuters

The Russian assault began with missiles, launched from land and sea, hitting a dozen airfields across the country, including Kiev’s Boryspil airport and facilities in the sea port city of Odessa. Black. US defense officials estimated that 100 missiles were fired in the initial assault.

By late morning, dozens of Russian helicopters had begun attacking Hostomel airport in a suburb north of Kiev.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky described at a press conference in Tokyo on Friday a first encounter at a Black Sea outpost known as Serpent Island, or zmiinyi in Russian, which he called “a symbol of resistance”.

The envoy broadcast a recording of a radio conversation between Russian navy ships and the lightly armed Ukrainian border guards stationed on the island. Korsunsky said the Russian ships twice called on the Ukrainians to lay down their arms and surrender or be destroyed.

“The response was ‘fuck you,'” Korsunski said, adding that the Russians then wiped out structures on the island, killing all 13 guards stationed there.

Brussels will present “massive and targeted” measures to EU leaders for their approval at an extraordinary summit later on Thursday, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Russia claims, based on little to no evidence, that Ukraine is attacking separatist-held territories in the Donbass, where more than 14,000 people have died in a conflict that erupted after the annexation of Crimea .

NATO will hold an emergency summit of its 30 member leaders on Friday to discuss what the alliance chief described as the “deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion” of Ukraine. by Russia.

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Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo and Aime Williams in Washington and Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

Mary I. Bruner