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Air raid sirens sounded in Kyiv Thursday as the Ukrainian government warned of bombs following Russia’s morning attack on dozens of targets across Ukraine. Streets were clogged with locals trying to withdraw money or stock up on supplies – some also looked for bomb shelters, others carried suitcases to head out of the city, joining a miles-long jam.
There was a brave face overlaying the resignation of inevitable defeat. “Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom no matter what Moscow thinks,” said its defiant leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, pleading for saviors.
That’s because Russian forces moved like lightning from three directions across Ukraine, advancing on the capital, Kyiv, from two sides as heavy fighting raged elsewhere in the country, the Washington Post reported. The Russians captured some small cities along the way, moving toward the prize. Friday, Zelenskyy said “enemy sabotage groups” had entered the capital as rockets began to rain down.
And as Goliath bullied and battered David, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to bray about threats from the comparatively tiny, massively outgunned country, saying he would achieve the “demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine… and free the country from those who took it hostage.”
Meanwhile, he warned those who tried to interfere: “If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history.”
He detailed how he doesn’t plan to occupy Ukraine, or “impose anything on anyone by force.” No, he wants Ukrainian neutrality and disarmament, he said, and offered direct negotiations with the Ukrainian leader for the first time.
But to Zelenskyy, it was a Faustian bargain, rejected with bravado. He said Ukrainian soldiers are pushing back Russian offensives, shooting down aircraft and blowing up Russian tanks. Still, he begged the West for weapons to be able to fight on. A non-NATO country, he asked for the impossible – the alliance’s help.
Now, the questions over Putin’s limits have been answered. But others linger: What next? How bad is it going to get? What does Putin really want? Who will he threaten next?
Some analysts believe that Putin wants to reverse the Maidan Revolution of 2014, which ousted a pro-Russian president, a revolt the Russian leader calls a coup d’état. Others say Putin’s true motive is shaking up the US-dominated world order, sowing disunity and chaos among Western allies and breaking up the Western world’s security architecture.
If that was his goal, he miscalculated. Hours after the first missiles hit, unity kicked in. The EU offered its “harshest” sanctions in history, as EU officials described. These measures would freeze Russian assets in the bloc, stop Russian banks from accessing European financial markets, and impose export controls including the blocking of Russian access to much-needed technology, Reuters reported. These add to the first round of EU sanctions earlier this week targeting members of Putin’s inner circle, including his defense minister. Elite Russians who have long used European banks, bought European mansions and shopped in European stores have become “persona non grata” in most of Europe, diplomats said.
The US, Australia, Japan and the UK have also imposed harsh sanctions intended to, as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday, cripple “Russia’s military, industrial and technological capabilities for years to come,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The UK also banned Russian airline Aeroflot from landing in the UK.
While countries from Turkey to Taiwan, Israel to Kenya, New Zealand to Chile, have condemned the assault on Ukraine, and protests against the invasion broke out in capitals – including Moscow – around the globe, some world leaders reacted with the fury of the scorned. That’s because, as commentators noted, they had appeased Russia for years, talking themselves into a policy of peace through inclusion no matter what Putin did.
“There are many fathers of the disaster unfolding in Ukraine,” wrote Politico EU. “The United States refused for years to believe that Putin was as dangerous as he has turned out to be. The United Kingdom was more interested in attracting oligarchs’ wealth than in asking where it came from. But make no mistake: No country has done more to downplay and forgive Russia’s transgressions than Germany. The truth is, Germans like to do business with Russia.”
And as the handwringing and recriminations go on, the betrayed say they see more clearly now: “Russia’s target is not only Donbas, the target is not only Ukraine, the target is the stability in Europe, and the (entire architecture of international peace),” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
Meanwhile, as Ukrainian casualties mount – more than 100 are reported dead as of Friday morning even as the true count remains unclear – countries in the region such as Moldova, the Czech Republic and especially Poland are bracing for refugees, saying they expect up to one million Ukrainians to cross the border, the Associated Press reported.
And as some Ukrainians leave to go abroad, others try to return home, the Guardian reported.
Marta Mulyak, a Ukrainian who lives in London, says she knows Ukrainian expatriates who are going to Ukraine to fight for their homeland: “The reality is that no one except Ukrainians will defend Ukraine.”