Ukraine calls emergency, urges citizens to leave Russia; Putin marks military holiday

Supporters of Ukraine rally at United Nations headquarters in New York City on February 17 as the U.N. Security Council holds a meeting on the Russia-Ukraine standoff. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Feb. 23 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday showed no signs of backing down over Ukraine — despite a spate of new economic sanctions from all directions and more certain to come — and used the crisis to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day across Russia.

After declaring two pro-Russian, separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine independent earlier this week and moving troops into the areas, Putin essentially said on Wednesday that Russia’s security interests are non-negotiable.

“Our country is always open for a direct and honest dialogue, for searching diplomatic solutions to the most complicated issues, but I should repeat that Russia’s interests and the security of its citizens are unconditional,” he said, according to the state-run TASS news agenc.

“That is why we will continue developing, upgrading the army and fleet, increase their efficiency.”

Putin this week moved Russian troops into the Luhansk and Donetsk regions for “peacekeeping” purposes after declaring them independent of Ukraine. The regions, collectively known as the Donbass, have considered themselves independent for years but no other country had recognized them until Putin did Monday. Ukrainian forces have been at war with the Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donbass since 2014.

Some Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, view Putin’s new troop deployment as an invasion of Ukraine.

In Kiev on Wednesday, the government moved to declare a state of emergency and told 2.5 million Ukrainian citizens living in Russia to leave immediately over fears of an invasion by Moscow.

The Ukrainian foreign ministry said Russia’s increased aggression could lead to significant restrictions with limited “consular assistance.”

Kiev’s state of emergency will last for 30 days, but could be extended to 60, a Ukrainian official said.

There were signs of another meeting between Putin and Biden to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, but such a summit is now seen as unlikely, given Putin’s actions this week. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that a Biden-Putin meeting is not currently in the plans.

“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belongs to his neighbors?” Biden said during an address Tuesday updating the crisis. “This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community.”

Another scheduled meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, scheduled for Thursday, has also been called off.

Putin, in the meantime, said he remains open to diplomacy to resolve the crisis — but showed little indication that he intends to change course in Ukraine, which has drawn Russian aggression partly due to its aspiration to join NATO.

“Today ensuring the defense capacity of our country remains a prior task of the state, whereas armed forces serve as a safe guarantee of national security, the peaceful life of our citizens, the stable, gradual development of Russia,” Putin said Wednesday in remarks to commemorate Defender of the Fatherland Day, an annual holiday honoring Moscow’s military and marking the creation of the Red Army in 1918.

“We see how challenging the international situation is, what risks the existing challenges pose, such as destabilizing the system of control over arms or NATO’s military activity. Russia’s urging to create a system of equal and indivisible security that would protect all countries remains unanswered.”


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