Diplomatic signals that Russia’s military tilt into Ukraine is inevitable are flashing, with Putin ordering the evacuation of his embassy in Kyiv and the Ukrainian government conscripting all men of fighting age to its military.
Ukrainian citizens have been told by the government to leave Russia immediately and the parliament has declared a 30-day state of emergency. The effect of the order permits authorities to restrict movements, block rallies and ban public gatherings in the interests of national security and public order.
All Ukrainian men of fighting age have been called to join the military and SBS News reports shelling intensified in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, in the breakaway Ukrainian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russian ‘peacekeeping’ troops have been deployed.
Worrying reports from Crimea on the entire night shift of Titan chemicals plant in Armyansk evacuated from the facility. This might be a preparation for another staged provocation by Russia. Moscow seems to have no limits in attempts to falsify pretexts for further aggression.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) February 23, 2022
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was difficult to predict what Russia’s Vladimir Putin would do next now that tens of thousands of Russian military personnel were positioned along the border.
“Predicting what might be the next step of Russia, the separatists or the personal decisions of the Russian president – I cannot say,” Zelenskyy said.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon disclosed that 80% of the 190,000 Russian troops and separatist forces along Ukraine’s border had taken ‘combat-ready positions’, and the chances of full-scale military assault were high.
“They are ready to go,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“They could attack at any time […] with a significant military force.”
.@PentagonPresSec: As @POTUS mentioned in his remarks yesterday @SecDef ordered the additional movement of U.S. forces that were currently stationed in Europe to continue our support for NATO Allies and the defense of the eastern flank. pic.twitter.com/Jm4ksPLRW5
— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) February 23, 2022
Witnesses have told Reuters nine Russian tanks are among the convoys of military equipment moving toward the recently declared independent state of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s state-controlled media has consistently made the unfounded claim that Ukraine has been carrying out a ‘genocide’ against Russian speakers (the Ukrainian president himself is a Russian speaker) and poses a violent threat to the breakaway regions.
The Kremlin has also stated that Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions enlisted Russia’s help to defend against what they claim to be aggression from Ukraine’s armed forces. Ukraine officials deny any military offences have occurred or are planned against the so-called independent republics.
On Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet said she was concerned any significant escalation in military action in Ukraine risked serious human rights violations as well as violations of international humanitarian law.
“I call on all sides to cease hostilities and to pave the way for dialogue instead of setting the stage for further violence,” Bachelet said.
Observers are concerned Russia’s actions have shredded the Minsk Agreements – which Putin essentially declared as dead earlier in the week during a televised national security council meeting – and contravene the UN Charter’s commitment to peace.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a UN General Assembly session that the world faced a ‘moment of peril’ over Russia’s stance on Ukraine.
“If the conflict in Ukraine expands, the world could see a scale and severity of need unseen for many years,” Guterres said.
“It is time for restraint, reason and de-escalation.”
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that it was monitoring the “highly…unpredictable” situation and stood ready to help in case any new humanitarian needs arose.
With Russian troops looking set to attack his country at any moment, Ukraine's president Zelenskyy gives a national address, appealing directly to Russians: "We don't need war. Not a cold one, nor hot, nor hybrid."
He says it's not too late to stop.
— Patrick Reevell (@Reevellp) February 23, 2022
During a press conference on Wednesday, Scott Morrison said any Ukrainian national in Australia with a visa due to expire up to 30 June would have their visa automatically extended for six months.
“Outstanding visa applications from Ukrainian citizens, which number approximately 430, will be prioritised and fast-tracked for a decision by immigration officials, as soon as possible,” the PM said.
Morrison added that Australia would be in ‘lockstep’ with US and UK allies and supported the international effort ‘to impose a sharp cost on Russia for its unprovoked and unacceptable aggression against Ukraine’.