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War Has Come to Kyiv. How Will the West Respond?

Western leaders must weigh how to pressure a Russian leader who seems to have gone past the point of no return.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Inhabitants of Ukraine’s capital leave the city.
Inhabitants of Ukraine’s capital leave the city.
Inhabitants of Ukraine’s capital leave the city following pre-offensive missile strikes by Russian armed forces from the territory of Belarus in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 24. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hundreds of people are reportedly killed as Russia launches pre-dawn missile strikes across Ukraine.

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Russia Attacks Ukraine

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Hundreds of people are reportedly killed as Russia launches pre-dawn missile strikes across Ukraine.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Russia Attacks Ukraine

European Union, NATO, and G-7 leaders will gather this morning to discuss further actions as open war comes to Europe for the first time in almost three decades.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, the Russian military launched a barrage of cruise and ballistic missiles at several Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv. Initial targets included military command centers, airports, and military depots. Russian troops are now moving toward the eastern city of Kharkiv. Journalist Jack Losh reported from the city center this morning as some citizens debated whether to flee while others prepared to fight.

There is still plenty the world doesn’t know, including the scale of the assault, the extent of the ground invasion, and the ensuing displacement and refugee flow. Hundreds of Ukrainian service members are already suspected to have been killed in the first wave of strikes, a Ukrainian interior ministry official told the Wall Street Journal.

As FP colleagues Jack Detsch, Amy Mackinnon, and Robbie Gramer report, the military action was preceded by a jarring split-screen moment: As the United Nations Security Council, currently chaired by Russia, debated Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin went live to the world, announcing the Russian invasion was imminent, saying his goal was to “demilitarize and de-Nazify” Ukraine—a country whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.

In an impassioned speech addressing the Russian public directly in the hours before the invasion, Zelensky said: “They tell you that we’re Nazis. But how can a people that lost 8 million lives to defeat the Nazis support Nazism? How can I be a Nazi? Say it to my grandfather, who fought in World War II as a Soviet infantryman and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.”

By that point, Russian tanks were already rolling. Putin’s address—delivered in the same color suit and tie he wore on Monday— suggested the speech was pre-taped, the invasion now appearing a foregone conclusion as the week began. Indeed, the metadata on the video file posted to the Kremlin’s website carries Monday’s date.

In the face of the initial Russian barrage, Zelensky declared martial law and called for strength from his compatriots in a video message. “We are working. The army is working,” he said. “Don’t panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything. We will defeat everyone.”

As the West considers imposing harsher economic sanctions, Russia has attempted to head off some of the damage. The Moscow Exchange suspended trading shortly after opening this morning—and later resumed trading—with the MOEX Russia Index dropping by close to 30 percent and the ruble falling approximately 3.5 percent against the dollar as oil prices surged to more than $100 for the first time since 2014.

What they said.

“We will defend ourselves. When you attack, you will see our faces, not our backs.”
—Zelensky in a video address moments before Putin’s invasion announcement aired

“So, if indeed an operation is being prepared, I have only one thing to say from the bottom of my heart: President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”
—U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to the U.N. Security Council

“Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way. The world will hold Russia accountable.”
—U.S. President Joe Biden in an overnight statement

“Russia must stop this military action right now. We will consult within the G-7, NATO, and the EU in the course of today. It is a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe.”
—German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

“President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The U.K. and our allies will respond decisively.”
—British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador.”
—Ukraines U.N. ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya to his Russian counterpart, Vassily Nebenzia

Can Ukraine fight? Although Ukraine has modernized its military since 2014 (with roughly $2.5 billion in U.S. support), so too has Russia, and the latter’s defense budget is more than 10 times larger. As FP reported in December 2021, Ukraine’s air force and defenses are significant weaknesses and have probably been degraded by Russia’s latest strikes.

The road ahead. This newsletter is aimed at preparing you for the day ahead, but at a moment like this, there are few signposts. Foreign Policy will continue to provide breaking news and expert analysis throughout the day and as the crisis rolls on. For those looking for the most up-to-date news, join FP reporters Jack Detsch, Robbie Gramer, Colum Lynch, and Amy Mackinnon on Twitter as they sift through the deluge of information the day is likely to bring.


What We’re Following Today

Imran Khan in Moscow. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan meets with Putin today in Moscow—the first Russia visit by a Pakistani premier this century. The two leaders share a mutual interest in Afghanistan’s stability, with any spillover in violence likely to disrupt both countries’ regional influence. As columnist C. Raja Mohan writes in Foreign Policy, Khan’s visit marks an “inflection point in South Asia’s great-power relations,” as Pakistan seeks to balance its relations with Russia, China, and a United States increasingly leaning toward India.


Keep an Eye On 

U.S. sanctions Houthi financing. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Houthi financier Sa’id al-Jamal for financially supporting Yemen’s Houthis. The move stops short of a full terrorist designation for the Houthis, which aid groups had warned would drastically restrict relief efforts in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Iran deal. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, has returned to Tehran for consultations, a step considered to be a mission for the final signoff of a 2015 nuclear accord revival. Bagheri Kani has played down the significance of his travel. “Being near the finish line is no guarantee of crossing it,” he wrote on Twitter.


Q&A With FP

Join Foreign Policy’s diplomacy and national security reporter Robbie Gramer, national security and intelligence reporter Amy Mackinnon, and Defense Department and national security reporter Jack Detsch for a special (and inaugural) SitRep Q&A today from 2 to 3 p.m. EST.

Subscribers can submit their questions ahead of time here, and our reporters will respond live.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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