BRUSSELS (AP) — World leaders expressed a raw outrage shrouded by an impotence to immediately come to the aid of Ukraine to avoid a major war in Europe, condemning Russia’s attack on its neighbor as the European Union and others promised unprecedented sanctions to hit the Kremlin.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it a “barbaric attack” on an independent nation that also targeted “the stability in Europe and the whole of the international peace order.” The EU will hold an emergency summit in Brussels, where NATO is also meeting after Poland and the Baltic nations bordering Russia and Ukraine called for an urgent session.
But no one promised to move in militarily and defend Ukraine as it could touch off a major European war, but NATO did decide to beef up its Eastern flank facing Russia. President Vladimir Putin warned anyone listening that any interference would “lead to consequences you have never seen in history.”
Von der Leyen said that “it’s President Putin who’s bringing war back to Europe” and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that “peace on our continent has been shattered.”
Highlighting the dire state, EU and NATO member Lithuania declared a state of emergency. The Baltic nation borders Russia’s Kaliningrad region to the southwest, Belarus to the east, Latvia to the north and Poland to the south.
So instead, most of the world — but not China — condemned and threatened to hit the Russian elites with, in the words of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, “the strongest package, the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented.”
“A major nuclear power has attacked a neighbor country and is threatening reprisals of any other states that may come to the rescue,” Borrell said. “This is not only the greatest violation of international law, it’s a violation of the basic principles of human coexistence. It’s costing many lives with unknown consequences ahead of us. The European Union will respond in the strongest possible terms.”
Von der Leyen said the “massive and targeted sanctions” she will put to EU leaders “will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking the access to technologies and markets that are key for Russia.”
She said the sanctions, if approved, “will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernize. And in addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets.”
Like the first package of sanctions that were imposed when Russia recognized the two breakaway eastern Ukrainian republics, von der Leyen said all Western powers were walking in lockstep.
“We are closely aligned with our partners and allies the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, but also, for example, Japan and Australia,” she said.
The NATO alliance agreed at emergency talks early Thursday to bolster its land, sea and air forces on its eastern flank near Ukraine and Russia. “We have increased the readiness of our forces to respond to all contingencies,” NATO ambassadors said in a statement.
And highlighting a widening rift in superpower relations, China stood alone in failing to condemn the attack and instead accused the United States and its allies of worsening the crisis.
And it put its friendship in practice Thursday by approving imports of wheat from Russia, a move that could help to reduce the impact of possible increased Western sanctions. Russia is one of the biggest wheat producers but would be vulnerable if foreign markets block shipments.
In a clear defense of Moscow, China “called on parties to respect others’ legitimate security concerns.”
Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that “all parties should work for peace instead of escalating the tension or hyping up the possibility of war,” in language China has consistently used to criticize the West in the crisis.
“Those parties who were busy condemning others; what have they done? Have they persuaded others?” Hua said.
One thing was clear — weeks of diplomatic cajoling, global crisscrossing of leaders and foreign ministers, and the threat of sanctions against Putin’s inner circle had failed to persuade the Kremlin to take one of the most significant measures in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Overall, more sanctions appear the only option for the foreseeable future. And from South Korea to Australia to Europe, governments were lining up to oppose Putin.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who had labored until the last minute for a diplomatic solution, said “France firmly condemns Russia’s decision to wage war,” and promised support for Ukraine.
The turmoil from the beginning of a long-feared act of aggression rippled from Europe to Asia. Stock markets plunged, oil prices surged, and European aviation officials warned of a high risk to civilian aircraft over Ukraine, reminding air operators that “this is now an active conflict zone.”
Russia’s attack and uncertainty about the intensity of the Western response sent stocks tumbling and oil prices surging by more than $5 per barrel. Market benchmarks in Europe and Asia fell by as much as 4%, while Brent crude oil briefly jumped above $100 per barrel in London for the first time since 2014 on unease about possible disruption of supplies from Russia, the No. 3 producer.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council held an extraordinary emergency meeting meant to dissuade Russia from sending troops into Ukraine. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ plea to “give peace a chance” came just as Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on Russian TV to announce the military operation.
Explosions were heard in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine. Moscow had massed more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders. On Monday, Putin recognized the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian forces there for what he called “peacekeeping.”
To avoid international civilian casualties, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said “there is a risk of both intentional targeting and misidentification of civil aircraft” and that “the presence and possible use of a wide range of ground and airborne warfare systems poses a HIGH risk for civil flights operating at all altitudes.”
Africa highlighted the global impact and diplomatic reach of the attack. Few African nations have issued responses to the crisis but the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention openly worried that global attention will now shift even further from helping the world’s least vaccinated continent respond to COVID-19.
“The conflict in Ukraine definitely will draw attention, political attention, towards that crisis,” John Nkengasong said.