Europe

5 things to know today about the Russia-Ukraine crisis

President Biden on Friday said he’s “convinced” Russian President Vladimir Putin has made up his mind to move forward with an invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has assembled forces outside the Ukrainian borders over the past few months, sparking concern amongst the international community that Moscow will invade the former Soviet country. 

These fears were exacerbated on Saturday when the leaders of Russian-backed separatist territories signed mobilization decrees and called for able-bodied men to take up arms.

Here are five things to know as the situation along the Russian-Ukrainian border escalates: 

Eastern Ukrainian front becomes increasingly volatile

Violence in eastern Ukraine has increased in recent days as the former Soviet country and two separatist-held regions accused each other of escalation. Russia on Saturday said at least two shells fired from eastern Ukraine landed across the border, but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed that claim as a “fake statement,” according to The Associated Press.

The line separating Ukrainian forces from the Russian-backed rebels has been plagued by periodic violence in the last few years, but recent shelling attacks and bombings could set off an all-out war, the newswire noted.

According to Agence France Presse, the joint military command for eastern Ukraine said a soldier sustained a fatal shrapnel wound in the conflict zone.

Meanwhile, leaders of separatist territories in the Luhansk and Donetsk region on Saturday called for a mobilization of able-bodied males. 

“I appeal to all the men in the republic who can hold weapons to defend their families, their children, wives, mothers,” Denis Pushilin, the head of the pro-Russia separatist government in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, said, according to the AP. ”Together we will achieve the coveted victory that we all need.”

Additionally, senior Ukrainian military officials were forced to take cover in a bomb shelter after a shelling attack near the separatist front.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst told The Hill that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky does not believe Russia will launch a full-scale invasion; instead, fighting will be limited to the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine.

“The Ukrainian government thinks that if there is going to be a Russian escalation of its ongoing war in Ukraine, it’s most likely to come in Donbas as opposed to something spectacular, like a drive to capture Kiev or any other major Ukrainian city,” he added. 

The separatist-controlled areas in Donbas became known as the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. 

U.S. touts a united front with its European allies

U.S. officials have continued to convey unity with its allies and their shared agreement on severe economic sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine. 

Vice President Harris said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that U.S. support for the NATO alliance is “sacrosanct,” and pledged that Russia would face “unprecedented” economic penalties in the event of an invasion. 

“Our strength must not be underestimated because after all it lies in our unity,” she said. “And as we have always shown it takes a lot more strength to build something up than it takes to tear something down.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also made the trek to Munich where she underscored the gravity of sanctions that will be imposed against Russia should it overstep into Ukraine. 

She added that an attack on Ukraine would be “an attack on democracy.” 

Similar statements were made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned that any invasion would also be met with sanctions.

Specifically, Johnson said that the U.K. would make it impossible for certain Russian companies to raise capital in London, according to the BBC.

“If Ukraine is invaded, the shock will echo around the world, and those echoes will be heard in East Asia, they will be heard in Taiwan,” he said.

Ukraine feels weight of world order on its shoulders

Leaders made it clear throughout the Munich conference that stability in Europe and the world is riding on Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and remain an independent nation.

Zelensky himself made clear the pressure the country was facing during a short press appearance with Harris. 

“This is our land, we understand what is happening. The only thing we want is to return peace to our country, and in this situation, we are very grateful to you, the United States, as our ally and partner, we are grateful to President Biden,” Zelensky said at his meeting with Harris.

He added that Ukraine’s army is “defending all of Europe,” and told Harris that “the only thing we want is to have peace.” He characterized Ukraine as Europe’s “shield” against the Russian military, and called for more international support.

von der Leyen sounded an even graver tone, warning that potential Russian aggression threatens the international order. 

She added that a potential Russian incursion in the coming days “could reshape the entire international order.”

Herbst, now senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, added that any conflict could end the “most peaceful, most stable, and most prosperous period in human history.”

He also warned that “China is watching the events unfold,” and a successful campaign by Putin could encourage the country to make moves of its own.

Russia continues to deny ill intentions

Russia, for its part, has denied accusations that it intends to invade Ukraine. 

The U.S. earlier this week alleged that Moscow was responsible for cyberattacks on Ukraine’s government and banks in an attempt to further destabilize the country.

However, Russia has pushed back against those claims and has blamed the U.S. for making “anti-Russian” statements.

“We paid attention to the frankly anti-Russian statements of the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security E.Neiberger, who accused intelligence agencies of cyber attacks on ️ systems of the Ministry of Defense and a number of commercial banks,” the Russian Embassy in the U.S. said in a statement on Twitter. 

“[Russia] has nothing to do with the events mentioned and, in principle, has never carried out and does not conduct ‘malicious’ operations in the virtual space,” the embassy wrote.

 

EU and U.S. rally to provide Ukraine with medical, financial support

The EU sent emergency medical equipment to Ukraine following a request from Kyiv amid an escalation of the crisis with Russia, the European Commission said on Saturday, according to a Reuters report.

France, Romania, Slovenia, Ireland and Austria have sent medical aid, the Commission said.

France has sent a field hospital, medicines and hundreds of tents, blankets, sleeping bags. Additional aid, including medical equipment and power generators, were deployed by the other EU countries, per the report. Reuters added that more help is expected in the coming days.

“Following a request from the Government of Ukraine for emergency assistance due to the threat of further escalation, the European Commission is coordinating the delivery of essential supplies to support the civilian population,” said an EU statement.

Tags Boris Johnson Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Vladimir Putin

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