U.S. President Joe Biden slapped another round of sanctions on Russia Thursday, hours after President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine, an onslaught that killed at least 57 Ukrainians and advanced rapidly on key cities, including the capital, Kyiv.
"Putin is the aggressor," Biden said at the White House after meeting virtually Thursday with leaders of the G-7 nations and the NATO alliance. "Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences."
The new U.S. sanctions target Russian banks, oligarchs and high-tech sectors and also include export controls. Biden said these measures will "squeeze Russia's access to finance and technology for strategic sectors of its economy and degrade its industrial capacity for years to come."
NATO allies, including Britain and the European Union, also imposed more sanctions Thursday.
The effect was felt almost immediately on global markets, where stocks slumped and commodity prices surged. Biden acknowledged that American motorists will see higher gasoline prices.
But Biden said, "This aggression cannot go unanswered. America stands up for freedom. This is who we are."
He rebuked Putin for saying in recent weeks that he was interested in negotiating with the U.S. and its allies over his security concerns. Putin repeatedly said the U.S.-led NATO military alliance formed after World War II poses a threat to Russia and demanded that Ukraine be barred from joining the alliance.
Watch President Biden's press conference:
"This was never about security," Biden said. "This was always about naked aggression, about Putin's desire for empire."
Now, Biden said, "Putin will be a pariah on the world stage."
This invasion is the biggest test of Europe's security since the end of World War II. In a pre-dawn television address from the Kremlin, Putin termed it a "special military operation" aimed at the "demilitarization and denazification" of its neighbor, once a Soviet republic but an independent country since 1991.
The first volley struck at Ukrainian forces in the country's east early Thursday and was followed by rocket strikes at several airports. As night fell in Europe, Ukraine's Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said 57 Ukrainians had been killed and 169 wounded.
According to U.S. officials, the Russian offensive, still in its initial phase, targeted Ukrainian defense positions with more than 160 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and airstrikes from fixed-wing aircraft.
On Thursday, the usually active center of Kyiv — an ancient city known for its gold-domed cathedrals, wide boulevards and elegant architecture — was mostly deserted. In residential districts, lines formed at banks and outside food stores. Main roads leading out of the city were clogged with traffic headed west.
From Kyiv, VOA's Jamie Dettmer reported that a military airport west of the capital was struck early Thursday by attack helicopters. He added that a top official had told him that "Russian military forces broke through into Ukraine in the Kyiv region at the Vilcha checkpoint," which is on the border with Belarus, a Russian ally where Putin has massed troops in recent weeks, claiming they were conducting military exercises.
A senior U.S. defense official told Pentagon reporters that the fighting appeared to be most intense in the second-largest city, Kharkiv, where additional soldiers also appeared to move into the city. Russian troops have also been moving toward the southern city of Kherson in what the defense official said appears to be an effort to capture key population centers and "decapitate" Ukraine's government.
"It does seem that their goals are fairly maximalist, probably including wholesale regime change in Kyiv," said Simon Miles, an assistant professor of public policy at Duke University. "The ability of the Ukrainian military to resist that, I think, remains to be seen. And they want to have this wrapped up before any kind of sort of partisan force can get into formation. And that is much easier said than done."
The defense official said, "We have seen indications that some Ukrainian units are fighting back."
But they will not be joined by American forces, Biden reiterated, stressing that U.S. forces have been moved only into NATO countries near Ukraine. He committed the U.S. military to fighting alongside NATO allies if Putin advances his attacks past Ukraine and into any of the 30 NATO countries. The Pentagon announced it was deploying 7,000 more U.S. troops to Germany to bolster NATO's force in Europe.
Calls for more sanctions
For now, NATO allies are countering with harsh words and what they say are ever-harsher sanctions on the Russian leader and his inner circle. Sanctioning Putin's personal assets remains a possibility if warfare escalates further, Biden said.
For weeks, Biden had been pushing for a diplomatic solution. On Thursday, he said there was a "total rupture" in U.S.-Russia relations.
The U.S. and several allies had imposed a first tranche of sanctions Tuesday, after Putin declared the disputed eastern Ukraine regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states, much as he appropriated Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called Russia's attack "amongst the darkest hours for Europe since the end of World War II." Speaking to reporters Thursday, Borrell said Ukraine needed "urgent assistance" and that the EU would "respond in the strongest possible terms."
Biden said he discussed the situation in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who asked him to "call on the leaders of the world to speak out clearly against President Putin's flagrant aggression and to stand with the people of Ukraine."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Thursday that the international community needs to respond with "devastating sanctions on Russia" and send weapons, military equipment, financial assistance and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called Russia's attack a "grave breach of international law."
"We stand with the people of Ukraine at this terrible time," he said. "NATO will do all it takes to protect and defend all allies."
Lithuania, a NATO member, declared a state of emergency Thursday and ordered its army to deploy along its border with Belarus.
The next move?
NATO leaders plan to meet Friday, and the alliance has activated its defense plans for member states in the region.
At the United Nations, Security Council members plan to vote Friday on a resolution that would condemn Russia for invading Ukraine and reaffirm the country's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. It will also call on Russia to immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw troops from Ukraine.
A senior U.S. official said they expect Russia to use the veto power it holds as a permanent council member. Diplomats are expected to then move quickly to the General Assembly, where it could be adopted without a threat of veto and with strong moral backing — but would not be legally binding.
As a new day arrived in Kyiv on Friday, the White House said it was closely watching Putin's next move. A reporter asked: What's Putin's endgame?
"I'm not going to make a prediction of that," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. "But we certainly think he has grander ambitions than Ukraine."
White House correspondent Anita Powell, Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb, U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer, State Department bureau chief Nike Ching, VOA refugee correspondent Heather Murdock in Slovyansk and Jamie Dettmer in Kyiv contributed to this report.
Some information came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and Reuters.