(The Hill) – As Russian forces marched deeper into Ukrainian territory on Thursday, Western leaders responded with condemnation and a fresh round of sanctions.
President Biden said Moscow’s invasion represents a clear effort to expand its reach that must be confronted.
“The Russian military has begun a brutal assault on the people of Ukraine without provocation, without justification, without necessity. This is a premeditated attack,” he said.
“This was never about a genuine security concern on their part. It was always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary.”
Here are five things to know.
1. Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine from nearly all sides
Russia launched its invasion early Thursday morning Moscow time, with a directive from President Vladimir Putin ordering a military operation that quickly led its forces to attack from multiple points along the Ukrainian border.
Explosions were heard across the country as Russian forces entered by land, air and sea.
Russian tanks were seen moving south from the Belarusian border, the closest entry point for reaching Kyiv, passing through the radioactive Chernobyl exclusion zone along the way. Missiles also targeted Ukrainian military control centers in the capital.
A Western intelligence official told Bloomberg News that Kyiv could fall to Russian forces as early as Thursday night, saying that Ukrainian air forces have been largely taken out.
The Russian military also launched strikes in the east, where Putin claimed intervention was needed to protect the area from the Ukrainian “regime.”
In the south, amphibious forces launched attacks in the port city of Odessa, killing 18 Ukrainian soldiers, according to reports.
Russia has embarked on a massive disinformation campaign, falsely claiming, among other things, that it is entering the country to combat genocide — accusing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish and lost family members in the fight against Germany in World War II, of Nazism.
“Russia propaganda outlets will keep trying to hide the truth and claim success for its military operation against a made-up threat,” Biden said in his Thursday address at the White House.
2. Ukraine vows resolve in confronting Russia against large-scale invasion
Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova on Thursday reinforced the nation’s resolve even while describing a 13-hour offensive against the country by Russia that targeted with bombs its infrastructure, airports, warehouses, facilities and even civilian hospitals.
“The combat spirit of Ukrainian military is high,” she said. “We are fighting, we will be fighting — not only our brave and motivated military but all Ukrainians.”
U.S. military and intelligence leaders are expecting a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, one that will involve overtaking significant territory.
“He has much larger ambitions in Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about,” Biden said Thursday.
Outlets have reported multiple casualties on both sides.
Images of Ukrainian highways near Kyiv showed roadways flooded as people left the capital following explosions. The city has since imposed a curfew, ordering residents to remain in their homes from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Multiple reports have detailed rushes at ATMs and grocery stores emptied as Ukrainians stock up on food, as well as long lines at gas stations.
Ukrainian institutions were also the target of multiple cyberattacks, including ones targeting banks and the government’s Ministry of Defense.
Biden warned that Russia is unprepared for the long-term consequences of trying to occupy the country.
“History has shown time and again how swift gains in territory eventually give way to grinding occupations, acts of mass civil disobedience and strategic dead ends,” he said.
3. What happens next?
The Biden administration on Thursday announced a second round of sanctions against Moscow targeting more of its financial institutions, Russian elites, their families and businesses. The president also restricted exports of key technology critical for Russia’s defense industry and blocked other countries from exporting to Russia commodities that include U.S.-made software or equipment.
Biden on Thursday described the sanctions as “profound” but warned that their impact will likely take at least a month to inflict real pain on the Kremlin.
In the meantime, the administration is bracing for punishing cyberattacks from Russia, with efforts already seen in Ukraine likely to now be targeted at the U.S. and Europe.
Other forms of retaliation could be deadly.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Feb. 17 during a speech at the United Nations Security Council that Russia sought to target specific Ukrainians for violence. The U.S. mission to the United Nations circulated a Russian “kill list” in a letter among member states of the international body as a warning of Putin’s possible war crimes.
“As we have said — if what was described in our letter transpires, those would be horrific crimes — war crimes, even,” a State Department spokesperson told The Hill on Wednesday. “We have been warning individuals and groups who we think could be targeted based on our understanding and our knowledge of Russian plans to try to enable them to protect themselves or move to places where they might be safer.”
European leaders are also preparing for what could be a massive exodus of refugees, with U.S. intelligence agencies assessing that anywhere from 1 million to 5 million Ukrainians could be displaced as Russian forces enter the country from the north, south, and east.
The office of U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees said several thousand Ukrainians have already crossed into countries like Moldova and Romania, while an estimated 100,000 are now displaced within the country, according to Reuters.
4. A divided global response between U.S. and Russia allies
The U.S., Europe and Group of Seven leading industrial countries largely aligned on Thursday with statements of strong condemnation against Putin for launching a war against Ukraine.
Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres issued an appeal directly to Putin: “Stop the military operation. Bring the troops back to Russia.”
China, however, rejected characterizing Russia’s attacks against Ukraine as an invasion in a predictable split from the U.S. position. Chinese officials repeated Putin’s claims that Moscow launched a “special operation” and reiterated its statements for “all sides … to exercise restraint and take constructive steps to ease the situation.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian tweeted support on Thursday for Russia’s narrative of the attack against Ukraine, saying the crisis is “rooted in NATO’s provocations.”
Likewise, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan landed in Moscow to meet with Putin on Wednesday night and carry out a two-day visit, where Pakistani and Russian officials committed to closer ties to strengthen their economies, and technology and energy sectors.
India, a democracy and that is a key partner of the U.S. in military cooperation, offered tempered responses on Thursday, drawing calls for help from the Ukrainian ambassador to India, Igor Polikha, who said in a press conference that Kyiv is “asking, pleading, for the support of India.”
Biden on Thursday said the U.S. is in consultation with India over their response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, saying Washington and New Delhi “haven’t resolved that completely.”
5. Americans and Europeans brace for economic impact
Financial sanctions on the Russian energy sector could wallop the country’s most economically and geopolitically important industries, but at the risk of higher gas and energy prices for U.S. and European consumers.
Russia is a significant source of U.S. energy imports and a key supplier for European nations who may lean harder on America to make up for fuel unavailable from Russia.
The nation was the third-biggest supplier of foreign petroleum for the U.S in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, responsible for 7 percent of imported oil.
Oil reached more than $100 a barrel Thursday morning.
In announcing the latest round of sanctions Tuesday, Biden warned that American consumers would be affected — a hardship he said was necessary in order to confront a global bully.
“I know this is hard, that Americans are already hurting. I will do everything in my power to limit the pain the American people are feeling at the gas pump. This is critical to me,” Biden said.
“But this aggression cannot go unanswered. If it did, the consequences for America would be much worse.”