WASHINGTON DC – In the early hours of Thursday morning, Moscow time, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine. A war by any other name is still a war. Moments later, there were reports of explosions in the cities of Kharkiv and Kyiv. Russian forces also attacked Odessa and Lviv. They attacked the Ukrainian nation both as an idea and on the ground. As Jeremy wrote on Thursday, “We are in a different world now”. No one, including the Russian president, knows what will happen next.
Much of the world responded with horror. The former German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tweeted, “I’m so angry at ourselves for our historical failure. After Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas, we have not prepared anything that would have really deterred Putin”. The German army chief, Alfons Mais, posted on social media that he was “fed up” and that his army was “standing there more or less empty-handed”. Still, despite these statements, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said on Thursday that Russia should not yet be cut off from Swift, the global inter-bank payment system.
Even traditional Russian allies in Europe condemned the invasion. The Czech president, Miloš Zeman, normally a staunch Putin defender, called the attack on Ukraine a crime against peace and said Russia should be cut off from Swift. The Czech Republic also announced it was closing Russian consulates in the country and ceasing to issue visas to Russian citizens except in humanitarian cases. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who is similarly friendly with Putin, said, “together with our EU and Nato allies, we condemn Russia’s military attack”.
In the United States, President Joe Biden announced additional sanctions, adding to those put in place earlier this week. The new tranche of restrictions will hit banks, certain oligarchs and their families, and will also restrict exports of technology to Russia. Biden did not comment on the role of China, which has so far said it considers Russia’s security concerns legitimate, and said consultations are still ongoing with India, whose usual approach – balancing its interests between Washington and Moscow – will undoubtedly be challenged by this war.
In Russia, Putin apparently convened a meeting of oligarchs, who asked him to avoid wrecking the economy. The Russian president replied that the measures he was taking were “necessary”. In tens of cities across Russia, hundreds of people were reportedly arrested for protesting against a war that they, Russian citizens, did not want. Some, from abroad, watched all of this and wondered if Putin had, finally, overplayed his hand.
In Ukraine, as air sirens went off, some citizens vowed to fight while others tried to leave the country or hide in the metro. Some people demanded that Russian soldiers tell them why they were in their country, in Ukraine. And it was only the first day. Biden, in his press conference on Thursday, suggested that Putin’s ambitions were not limited to Ukraine, and that in fact he wanted to resurrect a version of the Soviet Union.
In truth, we do not know how many other days of this there will be, or what happens next. In Ukraine, meanwhile, the fighting – and the dying – continues.
[See also: Why Putin invaded Ukraine]