Western leaders issued a volley of condemnations and threatened reprisals against Vladimir Putin after the Russian president ordered troops into Ukraine.
Putin on Thursday launched the start of a military invasion of Ukraine and demanded Kyiv’s army lay down its weapons in what many fears will be Europe’s worst conflict since World War II.
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, warned that if military action led to a “generalized war” it would be difficult to forecast the number of deaths and displaced people.
“President Putin: In the name of humanity bring your troops back to Russia. In the name of humanity do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century, ”Guterres said.
Joe Biden said the “prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight” as US President accused Putin of launching a “premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”
“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will keep Russia accountable, ”he said a few minutes after Putin spoke on Russian television.
Biden added that he would meet his G7 counterparts on Thursday morning and would reveal further measures to punish Russia for the invasion.
Earlier on Wednesday, the White House said it had not ruled out the possibility of imposing sanctions on Putin himself.
Nato called an emergency meeting of its top decision-making body as the head of the transatlantic military alliance condemned “Russia’s reckless and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which puts at risk countless civilian lives”.
“This is a grave breach of international law, and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security,” said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general. “I call on Russia to stop its military action immediately. . . Nato will do all it takes to protect and defend all allies. ”
The EU vowed to “hold the Kremlin accountable” for “Russia’s unjustified attack on Ukraine”.
“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,” Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, said. “We will keep the Kremlin accountable.”
Boris Johnson, UK prime minister, said he was “appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine”.
“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, ”he said.
Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, said: “This is a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe. The Russian attack on Ukraine is a flagrant breach of international law. Germany condemns this reckless act of President Putin in the strongest terms. ”
But Zhang Jun, China’s envoy to the UN, said the “door to a peaceful solution” was not yet fully shut down and called for all countries involved to exercise restraint.
“We hope that all parties concerned will remain cool-headed and rational, and commit themselves to enhancing dialogue and consultation to resolve relevant issues through negotiations,” Zhang said.
The invasion came just a day after the west imposed new sanctions on Russia.
However, China, which has a record of providing economic support to Moscow during Putin’s stand-offs with the west, will probably help Russia weather those penalties, financial analysts and geopolitical experts believed.
On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry criticized the use of “unilateral sanctions” and labeled the US “culprit” in Ukraine’s crisis.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida signaled that Japan might pile more sanctions on Russia. “If the situation deteriorates further, we must immediately consider further measures in co-operation with international society,” he said.
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan is in Moscow and was expected to meet Putin on Thursday despite domestic concerns that his trip risked further alienating the US, a decades-long cold war ally with whom relations have deteriorated over the latter’s relationship with the Taliban.
Edward White in Seoul, Henry Foy in Brussels, Guy Chazan in Berlin, Aimee Williams and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington, William Langley in Hong Kong, Chloe Cornish in Mumbai and Antoni Slodkowski in Tokyo