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Ukraine declares state of emergency, summons citizens home from Russia

ukrainian armed forces hold military drills in ukraine
Ukrainian service members take part in tactical drills at a training ground in an unknown location in Ukraine

Ukraine declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and told its citizens in Russia to come home, while Moscow began evacuating its Kyiv embassy in the latest ominous signs for Ukrainians who fear an all-out Russian military onslaught.

Shelling intensified at the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, where Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised the independence of two Moscow-backed rebel regions this week and has ordered the deployment of Russian troops as “peacekeepers”.

Convoys of military equipment including nine tanks moved towards eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk from the direction of the Russian border, a Reuters witness reported.

But there was still no clear indication of whether Putin will launch a massed assault on Ukraine with the tens of thousands of troops he has gathered near his neighbour’s borders. A U.S. defence official said the Russian forces were “as ready as they can be” for an attack. Read full story

That uncertainty and a mostly incremental first volley of sanctions on Russian interests by Washington and its allies have jolted financial markets, which were mixed on Wednesday.

Oil prices reversed their early losses on the day, while global stocks broke a four-day slide and demand for safe-haven assets waned as Western leaders and Ukraine awaited Putin’s next move. The rouble fell, although not by much. Read full story

“Predicting what might be the next step of Russia, the separatists or the personal decisions of the Russian president – I cannot say,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.

The 30-day state of emergency could restrict the freedom of movement of conscripted reservists, see curbs imposed on the media and lead to personal document checks, according to a draft text that needs to be approved by parliament.

The restrictions would come into force from Thursday.

The Ukrainian government has also announced compulsory military service for all men of fighting age.

Ukrainian government and state websites, which have experienced outages in recent weeks blamed by Kyiv on cyber attacks, were again offline on Wednesday. Ukraine’s parliament, cabinet and foreign ministry websites were affected.

Moscow denies planning an invasion and has described warnings as anti-Russian hysteria. But it has taken no steps to withdraw the troops deployed along Ukraine’s frontiers.

On Wednesday, it took down flags from its embassy in Kyiv, having ordered its diplomats to evacuate for safety reasons.

SANCTIONS

Western countries have been warning for weeks about the possibility of the bloodiest war in Europe for decades. That has not materialised yet but the apparent threat remains, leaving policymakers to struggle with calibrating their response.

Along with allies Washington has unveiled a volley of sanctions this week, including new restrictions on some Russian banks.

Western leaders say tougher measures are in reserve in case of a full-scale invasion, for example if Russia helps separatists seize parts of eastern Ukraine they claim but do not currently control.

None of the measures so far directly targets Putin himself, or are expected to have serious consequences for Moscow, which is sitting on more than $630 billion in international reserves.Read full story

The Biden administration is expected to on Wednesday unveil sanctions against Nord Stream 2 AG, a Swiss firm which built Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany and whose parent is Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom. Read full story

Germany on Tuesday froze approvals for the pipeline.

The European Union will add all members of Russia’s lower house of parliament who voted to recognise the separatist regions in Ukraine to a blacklist, freezing their assets. A second EU sanction package would include export controls. Read full storyRead full story

EU leaders will also hold an emergency summit on Thursday to discuss next steps.

Britain banned Russia from issuing new bonds in its markets.

FRESH TROOPS DEPLOYED

Ukraine’s military said one soldier had been killed and six wounded in increased shelling by pro-Russian separatists using heavy artillery, mortar bombs and Grad rocket systems in the two breakaway areas in the last 24 hours.

New satellite imagery showed several fresh troop and equipment deployments in western Russia and more than 100 vehicles at a small airfield in southern Belarus, which borders Ukraine, according to U.S. firm Maxar.

For months, Russia has presented the crisis mainly as a dispute with the West, demanding security guarantees, including a promise never to allow Ukraine to join NATO.

But the recognition of the separatist regions was accompanied by much stronger language against Ukraine, including personally from Putin.

In a TV address on Monday, Putin characterised the Ukrainian state as an artificial construct wrongly carved out of Russia by its enemies.

Some who saw the speech said they now feel menaced by a leader making decisions which no longer appear rational.

“In the case of Putin, this is not a struggle for money or power: It’s about pride. Which means the mind is switched off. He can’t stop, and he can’t be stopped,” said Lilia, 72, a pensioner in a Kyiv suburb.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Russia could become a global pariah and urged it not to “completely isolate yourself worldwide.”

Diplomacy has also suffered: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian cancelled meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. A summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Putin, floated by France at the start of the week, now seems unlikely.

Putin said he was always open to finding diplomatic solutions but that “the interests of Russia and the security of our citizens are unconditional for us.”

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