Putin Faces Global Criticism Over Ukraine War

As Moscow launches large-scale attacks, leaders around the world have pledged a forceful response.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Demonstrators gather at the Lincoln Memorial to protest against the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20.
Demonstrators gather at the Lincoln Memorial to protest against the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20.
Demonstrators gather at the Lincoln Memorial to protest against the rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20. Kenny Holston/Getty Images

World leaders have widely condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for launching what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine, which he announced in a ominous speech that was seen as an official declaration of war.

In a chilling statement broadcast early Thursday morning—and at the crack of dawn in Ukraine—Putin vowed to “demilitarize and denazify” the country and urged Ukrainians to lay down their arms. 

He also warned other countries not to get involved: “Anyone who tries to interfere with us—or, even more so, to create threats for our country and our people—must know that Russia’s response will be immediate,” Putin said. Opposition, he threatened, would face “consequences as you have never before experienced in your history.”

World leaders have widely condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for launching what he called a “special military operation” in Ukraine, which he announced in a ominous speech that was seen as an official declaration of war.

In a chilling statement broadcast early Thursday morning—and at the crack of dawn in Ukraine—Putin vowed to “demilitarize and denazify” the country and urged Ukrainians to lay down their arms. 

He also warned other countries not to get involved: “Anyone who tries to interfere with us—or, even more so, to create threats for our country and our people—must know that Russia’s response will be immediate,” Putin said. Opposition, he threatened, would face “consequences as you have never before experienced in your history.”

Immediately after his speech ended, the attacks in Ukraine began. Though exact numbers are still unclear, early reports indicated that hundreds of Ukrainians were killed as explosions were reported throughout the country. Ukraine’s state emergency service reported that Russian forces attacked 10 regions and targeted fighter jets at airports, according to the New York Times.

The global reaction was swift, with leaders around the world decrying the invasion and pledging a forceful response. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky encouraged citizens to stay calm and instituted martial law across the country, while Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the country was now in “all-out defense mode.”

“This is a war of aggression,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

Across Europe, other leaders echoed these sentiments. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz slammed Moscow for its “blatant breach of international law,” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled” by the decision; the leaders of Italy, France, and Finland made similar statements. Lithuania, which borders Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, declared a two-week state of emergency.

Leaders from NATO, the G-7, and the European Union are set to meet Thursday to determine how exactly to respond. After imposing a first round of economic sanctions on Tuesday, European leaders announced on Thursday that they would unroll a “package of massive and targeted sanctions” on Russia’s strategic economic sectors and freeze Russian assets.

“These sanctions are designed to take a heavy toll on the Kremlin’s interests and their ability to finance war,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

Like his European counterparts, U.S. President Joe Biden also pledged to respond with severe sanctions. “President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” he said in a statement released by the White House. “The world will hold Russia accountable.”

Within the United States, U.S. officials on both sides of the aisle called on Biden to take forceful economic actions. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney advocated for the “harshest economic penalties,” a sentiment echoed by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe urged Biden to “hit Putin where it hurts,” and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy called for “crippling sanctions.” 

China, which has walked a careful line during the crisis, notably resisted calling the attacks an invasion and urged “all sides to exercise restraint.” Beijing also approved Russian wheat imports, in a show of economic support that could cushion the shock of Western sanctions. 

“The Ukrainian issue has other very complicated historical background that has continued to today,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chunying said. But she added that China “did not wish to see what happened in Ukraine today.”

Pakistan found itself in an awkward position, with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan still in Moscow for a planned visit with Putin over a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline. Khan has yet to publicly comment on the invasion. 

Many Latin American countries also have yet to respond, although Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua—Russia’s key regional allies—have previously backed Moscow’s position on Ukraine and pinned blame on the United States. 

But globally, world leaders largely expressed their outrage. In response to Putin’s speech, South Korea announced that it would issue sanctions against Russia, while Australia instituted travel bans and targeted sanctions against eight members of Russia’s Security Council. Turkey called Russia’s actions a “heavy blow to regional peace and stability,” alongside international condemnation from Canada, Japan, and Israel

NATO leaders are now set to meet in a summit on Friday, although it’s unclear what still can be done to further pressure Putin. Several NATO members—including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia—have already invoked Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty, triggering consultations on the security situation, in response to the crisis.

“Peace in our continent has been shattered,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “We now have war in Europe, on a scale and of a type we thought belong to history.”

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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