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UK PM chairs crisis meeting after Russia’s ’horrific’ Ukraine attack

UK PM chairs crisis meeting after Russia’s ’horrific’ Ukraine attack

UNITED KINGDOM: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday (Feb 24) condemned Russia’s “unprovoked” and “horrific” attack on Ukraine, as he prepared to chair an emergency meeting of top ministers and officials.

Ukraine
By AFP

Thursday 24 February 2022, 03:50PM


Black smoke rises from a military airport in Chuguyev near Kharkiv on February 24, 2022. Photo: AFP

Black smoke rises from a military airport in Chuguyev near Kharkiv on February 24, 2022. Photo: AFP

Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky overnight and vowed “the West would not stand by as (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin waged his campaign against the Ukrainian people,” his office said.

“I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskyy to discuss next steps,” Johnson said on Twitter.

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

Downing Street later said the emergency meeting ‒ dubbed COBR ‒ to coordinate Britain’s response would begin at 0730 (local and GMT).

Putin early Thursday launched an air and ground assault on Ukraine after a surprise television address.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who spoke to her US counterpart Antony Blinken Wednesday evening ahead of the Russian leader’s announcement, joined Johnson in condemning the attack “on the people of Ukraine”.

“We stand with Ukraine and we will work with our international partners to respond to this terrible act of aggression,” she said following the start of Russia’s offensive.

Her foreign ministry colleague, lawmaker James Cleverly, told the BBC that the government feared it was “the start of a quite extensive military operation”.

The ministry has deployed teams to five countries in eastern Europe to support Britons leaving Ukraine, Truss noted. 

Meanwhile Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he had instructed the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure airlines avoid Ukraine airspace “to keep passengers and crew safe”.

The UK slapped sanctions Tuesday on five Russian banks and three billionaires, in what Johnson called “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.

UK media reported early Thursday he would detail another round of measures in parliament later in the day.

Leading members of Johnson’s ruling Conservatives, as well as the main opposition Labour party, have urged him to hit the Kremlin as hard as possible with the new sanctions.

Cleverly vowed London would respond with “unprecedented” steps “to punish this aggression and to hopefully persuade the people around Vladimir Putin that this is completely the wrong thing to do, and that he should reverse this attack”.

INVASION

Russia’s ground forces on Thursday crossed into Ukraine from several directions, Ukraine’s border guard service said, hours after President Vladimir Putin announced the launch of a major offensive. 

Russian tanks and other heavy equipment crossed the frontier in several northern regions, as well as from the Kremlin-annexed peninsula of Crimea in the south, the agency said.

It said one of its servicemen died in a shelling attack along the Crimean border, the first officially confirmed military death of the Russian invasion.

Ukraine has suffered heavy casualties in its eight-year conflict with Russian-backed rebels in the separatist east, but has reported no fatalities along its southern border with Crimea for some years.

After holding a series of emergency calls with world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, the Ukrainian leader convened a meeting of the top military brass, his office said.

“The armed forces of Ukraine are waging heavy combat,” presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said.

“We have losses,” he added, without giving details.

“In several places, the Russian armed forces have been repelled.”

Ukrainian officials said Russia was primarily targeting military infrastructure and silos, managing to push five kilometres deep along the northern frontier.

Weeks of intense diplomacy and the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia failed to deter Putin, who had massed between 150,000 and 200,000 troops along the borders of Ukraine.

“I have made the decision of a military operation,” Putin said in a surprise television announcement that triggered immediate condemnation from US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders, and sent global financial markets into turmoil.

Shortly after the announcement, explosions were heard in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and several other cities, according to AFP correspondents.

Ukrainian border guards said Russian ground forces had crossed into Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law and said Russia was attacking his country’s “military infrastructure”, but urged citizens not to panic and vowed victory.

CITY RESIDENTS TAKE SHELTER

Kyiv’s main international airport was hit in the first bombing of the city since the Second World War and air raid sirens sounded over the capital at the break of dawn.

“I woke up because of the sounds of bombing. I packed a bag and tried to escape. We are sitting here, waiting,” said Maria Kashkoska, as she sheltered inside the Kyiv metro station.

Ukraine’s foreign minister said the worst-case scenario was playing out.

“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

“This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

Within a few hours of Putin’s speech, Russia’s defence ministry said it had neutralised Ukrainian military airbases and its air defence systems.

In his televised address, Putin justified the operation by claiming the government was overseeing a “genocide” in the east of the country.

The Kremlin had earlier said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine had asked Moscow for military help against Kyiv.

CONDEMNED AGGRESSION

World leaders swiftly condemned Russia’s military attack on Ukraine on Thursday, with Western capitals pledging new sanctions on Moscow and the UN chief demanding the conflict “stop now”.

Here are some reactions to the Russian operation:

 

US President Joe Biden:

“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces,” the US president said shortly after the operation began.

He warned “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring.”

“The world will hold Russia accountable,” he added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson:

"I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelensky to discuss next steps," the British leader tweeted.

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

EU chiefs:

“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," wrote EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel on Twitter.

“We will hold the Kremlin accountable.”

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg:

The NATO head said Russia had “chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country.”

The attack “puts at risk countless civilian lives,” Stoltenberg said in a statement, describing it as a “grave breach of international law, and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security.”

NATO ambassadors are to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday morning European time to discuss the attack.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

“These unprovoked actions are a clear further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and of Russia’s obligations under international law and the Charter of the UN,” Trudeau said in a statement.

He said he would meet with partners from the Group of Seven to shape a collective response, “including by imposing sanctions additional to those announced earlier this week.”

“These reckless and dangerous acts will not go unpunished.”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki:

“We must immediately respond to Russia’s criminal aggression on Ukraine, Europe and the free world has to stop Putin,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.

“Today’s European Council should approve fiercest possible sanctions. Our support for Ukraine must be real.”

UN chief Antonio Guterres:

Guterres made a direct and personal plea to Russian President Vladimir Putin after an emergency Security Council session, urging him to stop the attack “in the name of humanity.”

“In the name of humanity, do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century,” he said.

“The conflict must stop now,” added the UN chief, who said it was the “saddest day” of his tenure.

Ukraine’s UN ambassador:

During the charged UN emergency meeting, the Ukraine’s ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya implored the council, chaired by Russia to “do everything possible to stop the war”.

He demanded that Russia’s ambassador relinquish his duties as chair.

“There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador,” the visibly emotional Kyslytsya said.

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