The United States and its allies on Thursday plan to impose the “full scope” of sanctions discussed over the past several weeks in response to the attack, according to a senior official in the Biden administration.
“President Putin chose a premeditated war that will lead to massive loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said. “Only Russia is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will cause, and the United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive manner. And the world will hold Russia accountable.”
The White House statement came in response to explosions across Ukraine, including in the capital, Kiev. Shortly before the bombings began, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” and called for the “disarmament” of Ukraine in televised statements.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said the “Russian invasion began” with missile strikes on Kiev, in an official WhatsApp group with journalists.
An early assessment from the United States is that this is the beginning of a full-fledged Russian invasion, according to a senior US official familiar with the latest US intelligence. The source said the common belief was that the explosions heard near Kiev and Odessa were most likely rockets, while the explosions around Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine were more likely to be artillery shells, given their proximity to the border.
Biden also spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a statement about the call, Biden said he briefed Zelensky “on the steps we are taking to garner international condemnation, including tonight at the United Nations Security Council.”
“He has asked me to invite world leaders to speak out against President Putin’s blatant aggression, and to stand by the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.
In a speech Thursday morning in Ukraine, Zelensky said he is implementing martial law across the country and urged Ukrainians to remain calm.
“No panic. We are strong. We are ready for everything,” he said. “We will win everyone over because we are Ukraine.”
Biden said he plans to speak to his G7 counterparts and will address the American people on Thursday. He said he intended to announce “further consequences” that the United States and its allies planned to impose on Russia for “this needless act of aggression against Ukraine and world peace and security.”
“We will also coordinate with our NATO allies to ensure a strong and united response that deters any aggression against the alliance,” Biden said.
While the administration official declined to disclose details, the United States planned to target Russia’s two largest banks, as well as other financial firms, and prepared to deploy export controls to cut off Russia’s access to Western technology critical to entire Russian economic sectors.
It is also likely that additional members of Putin’s inner circle and their families will be targeted.
Discussions are continuing late Wednesday evening between US and European officials about the final shape of the package, the official said. It will also be a topic of discussion at the scheduled G7 virtual meeting, the official said.
The official said US officials remain on high alert for any cyber activity against key domestic targets including banks and critical infrastructure.
Biden’s national security team plans to brief the House and Senate in separate, unclassified phone calls Thursday on the situation in Ukraine. Lawmakers from both parties strongly condemned Russia’s actions in statements on Wednesday and called on the United States to tighten sanctions against Moscow.
United Nations meeting with the start of the bombings
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting Wednesday evening in New York – showing a noticeably split screen as diplomats delivered speeches at the same time as Putin’s speech was broadcast on Russian television and the explosions began in Ukraine. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Volodymyr Yelchenko, directly questioned Russia’s representative in his speech.
“About 48 minutes ago, your president declared war on Ukraine,” Yelchenko said. “You declared war, and it is the responsibility of this body to stop the war.”
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield spoke for the second time as the UN meeting drew to a close, saying that Putin “threw a message of war” during the Security Council meeting. She said the United States would introduce a resolution at the United Nations on Thursday.
“At the exact time that we meet in the Council in pursuit of peace, Putin has sent a message of war with utter contempt for the responsibility of this Council,” Thomas Greenfield said.
As the last speaker at the meeting, Yelchenko again turned his attention to Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzia, who was holding the post of Security Council President.
“I welcome the decision of some members of this council to meet as soon as possible to discuss the necessary resolution condemning the aggression it is carrying out against my people,” Yelchenko said. “There is no torment for war criminals. They go straight to Hell, Ambassador.”
Nebenzia responded by saying that Moscow was not aggressive against the Ukrainian people but against the “military junta” in power in Kiev, before rushing to end the UN meeting.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
Jim Sioto, Caitlan Collins, Kevin Liptak, Jennifer Hansler, Manu Raju, Caroline Song and Myrna Sharif contributed to this report.
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