(Kiev) Ukraine, where deadly fighting opposes Russian and Ukrainian forces right up to the gates of Kiev, decreed general military mobilization on Thursday evening to try to curb the massive offensive launched by Vladimir Putin, to which the United States and European Union responded with new sanctions.
A decree by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky orders Thursday evening the general mobilization of those subject to “military conscription and reservists”, within 90 days in all regions of the country.
President Zelensky regretted Friday that Kiev finds itself “left alone” facing the Russian army: “Who is ready to fight with us? I do not see anyone. Who is ready to guarantee Ukraine NATO membership? Everyone is afraid, ”he denounced, in a video address published on the account of the Ukrainian presidency.
“On our island of Zmeiny, all our border guards died as heroes, defending themselves to the end. But they did not surrender,” he said.
Mr Zelensky said Russian troops had infiltrated Kiev.
“We have received information that enemy sabotage groups have entered Kiev,” he said, calling on residents to be vigilant and to respect the curfew in force.
“I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine. According to information in our possession, the enemy has identified me as the number one target. And my family as target number two,” he said.
To avoid an extension of this conflict to “other European countries”, against which German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned, the military forces of the NATO states have been placed on alert and certain units will movement to reinforce the eastern flank. A summit of the Atlantic Alliance will take place by videoconference on Friday.
The United States will defend “every inch of NATO territory,” President Joe Biden said in a speech. But they will not send troops to Ukraine, he immediately clarified.
The Pentagon will, however, send some 7,000 more soldiers to Germany.
US and EU sanctions
The first day of the air and ground offensive in Ukraine, described as a “success” by the Russian Ministry of Defense, has already caused dozens of deaths and caused an outcry in the international community, especially on the Western side.
Joe Biden, for whom the master of the Kremlin will become “a pariah on the international scene”, has thus imposed restrictions on the export of technological products to Russia.
Number two of the Russian Embassy in Washington was expelled and 24 Belarusian individuals and entities punished for their involvement in the invasion of Ukraine.
The United States and Albania called for a UN Security Council vote on Friday on a draft resolution strongly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling on that country to withdraw its troops immediately.
The leaders of the 27 EU countries have simultaneously taken “massive” sanctions against Russia in the energy, finance and transport sectors.
These sanctions do not go as far as expected by some observers, in particular not immediately excluding Russia from the Swift banking network, which makes it possible to receive or send payments worldwide.
Moscow, for its part, promised a “severe” response to these measures.
“Total air superiority”
The Russian attack began at dawn, after Vladimir Putin’s recognition on Monday of the independence of Ukrainian separatist territories in Donbass.
“I took the decision of a special military operation” with the aim of “a demilitarization and a denazification of Ukraine”, hammered the Russian president on television, but “we do not have in our plans an occupation Ukrainian territories”.
To justify this intervention, he notably reiterated his unfounded accusations of a “genocide” orchestrated by Kiev in the pro-Russian rebel “republics”, cited a call for help from the separatists and denounced the “aggressive” policy of the NATO.
Russia had “no other way” to defend itself, he said in the evening.
Very early Thursday, just after Mr. Putin’s speech, explosions sounded in Kiev, in Kramatorsk, a city in the east which serves as the headquarters of the Ukrainian army, in Kharkiv (northeast), second city of Ukraine, Odessa, on the Black Sea, and Mariupol, the main eastern port.
The Chernobyl power plant, scene of the worst nuclear accident in history in 1986, later fell into the hands of Russian soldiers.
Russia has “complete air superiority,” a Western intelligence official has pointed out, saying Russia wants to amass “overwhelming force” around Kiev, where a curfew has been imposed.
Heavy human toll
The Ukrainian president declared martial law and ordered the severance of diplomatic relations with Moscow.
In the evening, he announced that at least 137 Ukrainians had lost their lives and 316 had been injured since the start of the Russian invasion, without further details.
In the Odessa region, the official toll was 18 inhabitants of a village killed in strikes and at the beginning of the evening, the authorities of the Kherson region (south) also reported 13 civilians and nine soldiers killed. .
In addition, a Ukrainian military plane crashed with 14 people on board not far from Kiev.
On the Russian side, a military transport aircraft suffered a similar fate in western Russia, near the border with Ukraine.
Both sides were making unverifiable claims, but the Russian army was gaining ground.
In the Kherson region, it is present in several areas and notably controls Genichesky, a town 300 km west of the Russian border.
100,000 people fled
From the early hours of the day, Kyiv residents taken aback rushed to the metro to take shelter or try to leave the city, while cars filled with families fleeing the capital created vast traffic jams.
Some were nevertheless determined to stay, like Olena Chevchenko, an employee of an NGO. “We hope for international support,” she told AFP.
“I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime,” said Olena Kourilo, 52, an educator in Chuguyv, near Kharkiv, her face covered with bandages due to injuries from a strike that killed at least one person. found AFP.
On the main roads of eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian army was everywhere.
A civil defense official said civilian evacuation operations were hampered by heavy artillery fire and poor communications.
Around 100,000 people have fled their homes in Ukraine and thousands have left their country, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
The EU said it was “fully prepared” to welcome them.
Nearly 1,400 demonstrators arrested, according to an NGO
In Moscow, Russians expressed their concern, others their support for Vladimir Putin.
“I’m not happy, I’m completely worried,” said Nikita, a 34-year-old manager, saying he didn’t know “who is right or who is wrong”.
Anti-war rallies took place in the center of the capital, on Pushkin Square and the main Tverskaya Street, as well as in Saint Petersburg. Dozens of people were arrested, nearly 1,400 across Russia, according to an NGO.
The authorities had warned that they would repress any unauthorized demonstration.
Panic in the markets
Vladimir Putin warned Westerners “who would try to interfere” that “Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead to consequences you have never experienced before”.
China, which has close relations with Moscow, said it was following the situation “closely” and called for “restraint by all parties”.
The Russian offensive comes eight years after Moscow annexed Crimea and sponsored the takeover of parts of Donbass by pro-Russian separatists, sparking a regional conflict that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
It wreaked havoc on world markets, with European stock markets falling and commodity prices soaring.
Oil notably crossed 100 dollars a barrel, a first since 2014, but Wall Street ended up after making the elastic.
The Moscow Stock Exchange plunged by more than 35% and the ruble hit a historic low against the dollar, before the intervention of the Russian central bank.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warned that the conflict poses “a significant economic risk for the region and the world” as the global economy tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.