Ukraine has urged its citizens to leave Russia as soon as possible as a direct military confrontation looms on the horizon, and a state of emergency is expected to be declared nationwide.
“Because of the escalating Russian aggression against Ukraine, which can lead to a substantial reduction in possible consular assistance in Russia, the foreign ministry urges the citizens of Ukraine to refrain from travel to Russia, and for those in that country to leave its territory immediately,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
The warning came as Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council moved to impose a state of emergency nationwide, the first time it has done so since 2014, when Russia began its aggression against Ukraine, leading to the death of more than 14,000 people in the eight years since.
“Across the territory of our country, apart from Donetsk and Luhansk, a State of Emergency will be introduced,” Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov said in a statement. “The main aim of the Russian Federation is to destabilize Ukraine from inside and to achieve its objective.”
The state of emergency would last for 30 days but could be extended after that, and curfews could be imposed in certain regions, with that decision to be left up to local authorities. The decision will not be final until it is approved by Ukraine’s parliament.
Ukraine’s military also called up 36,000 reserve troops on Wednesday, while Russia began evacuating diplomatic personnel from the country in a move widely seen as a sign of impending military action.
Russian lawmakers officially gave full approval for Vladimir Putin to deploy troops outside the country on Tuesday, while soldiers and military equipment had already been spotted rolling into Ukraine’s occupied territories late Monday.
By Wednesday, a delegation of lawmakers from Putin’s party, United Russia, were spotted rubbing elbows with the separatist leader in occupied Donetsk.
Russian authorities claim their deployment of troops within Ukrainian borders is aimed only at “peacekeeping” in the territories controlled by pro-Russian separatists, but the decision leaves the door wide open to a further deployment of troops.
President Biden said this week that the U.S. “will continue to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine” but reiterated—despite the presence of American troops and military hardware—that “we have no intention of fighting Russia.”
Meanwhile, NATO has begun its biggest asset movement in decades, including 800 American soldiers from an Italy-based infantry battalion task force, eight Air Force F-35 strike fighters, and around 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters from Germany to the Baltic region, as well as 12 Apaches from Greece to Poland. The movement will bolster the 6,000 troops standing at attention in Germany, Poland, and Hungary and a further 40,000-strong contingent NATO can call up at any time. “These additional personnel are being repositioned to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO member states, and train with host-nation forces,” a senior defense official told Military Times.
A flurry of sanctions meant to give Putin one last chance to pull back from a full invasion appears to have left Moscow unfazed, as a new buildup of troops was reported late Tuesday by the private U.S. company Maxar Technologies, which released satellite images of troop tents and more than 100 military vehicles near the border with Ukraine in southern Belarus.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday promised a “strong response” to the latest sanctions but dismissed them as ineffective.
“Russia has proven it is able to minimize the damage inflicted by all costs of sanctions,” the ministry said.
Adding to fears of an imminent land grab by combined Russian and separatist troops, separatist leaders have increasingly hinted they will move to reclaim land currently controlled by Ukrainian authorities—a move the Kremlin appears to have endorsed. A Russian state TV host on Wednesday joked about a “Russian spring” coming to the Ukrainian-controlled cities of Kramatorsk and Mariupol, while separatist Telegram channels have been rife with taunts about a supposedly imminent military offensive against those cities.
Ukraine’s Security Service on Wednesday said they had also seen “increasing” movements by Russian forces on the border with the Kharkiv region, where separatists have long been known to harbor ambitions to take over the city of Kharkiv.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that Russia will likely engage in a full invasion after recognizing two separatist regions on Monday. “Every indication is that Russia continues to plan for a full-scale attack on Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told reporters after a strategical meeting Tuesday. “We see that more and more of the forces are moving out of the camps and are in combat formations and ready to strike. What we see is further invasion of a country which was already invaded.”
Tension across Europe continues to build as sanctions against Russia threaten to send utility bills sky high. Italy, which imports 90 percent of its natural gas from Russia, reluctantly agreed to support European Union sanctions being discussed. Germany, which also imports more than half of its national supply of gas from Russia, took the bold step to halt the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.