Biden denounces attack, says ‘Russia alone is responsible’

World leaders on Wednesday continued to condemn Russia’s recognition of a pair of separatist regions in Ukraine.

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On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. The move prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to enact sanctions on Russia.

Here are the latest updates:

Updated 11:49 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Oil prices jumped above $100 for the first time in more than seven years after Russian President Putin announced a “military operation” in eastern Ukraine, the BBC reported.

Update 11:42 a.m. EST Feb. 23: President Joe Biden will speak at 12 p.m. Thursday, CNN reported, citing a White House official.

Update 11:37 p.m. EST Feb. 24: Anton Gerashchenko, Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, has also confirmed that a Russian invasion has begun.

“The invasion has begun. There have just been missiles on the military headquarters, airports, military warehouses, near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnieper,” the minister said in a statement posted to his official Facebook page, The Guardian reported. “Gunfire at the border is underway. From this day, there is a new geopolitical reality in the world.”

Update 11:19 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said that Russia has launched a “full-scale invasion.”

“(Vladimir) Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Kuleba tweeted. “This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

Update 10:49 p.m. EST Feb. 23: According to a transcript from RIA-Novosti, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “circumstances require us to take decisive and immediate action.”

“The People’s Republics of Donbas turned to Russia with a request for help,” Putin added. “In this regard, in accordance with Article 51, Part 7 of the U.N. Charter, with the sanction of the Federation Council and in pursuance of the friendship treaties ratified by the Federal Assembly and mutual assistance with the DPR and LPR, I have decided to conduct a special military operation.”

Update 10:34 p.m. EST Feb. 23: In a statement, President Joe Biden said “the prayers of entire world are with the people of Ukraine.”

“Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring.”

Biden added that the U.S. and its allies will “respond in a united and decisive way.”

“The world will hold Russia accountable,” Biden said.

Update 10:20 p.m. EST Feb. 23: CNN reported that Putin said the operation would be held in Donbas and urged Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms and go home, according to RIA-Novosti and Tass, which are state-run news agencies.

Update 10:01 p.m. EST Feb. 23: President Vladimir Putin said Russia will conduct a military operation in eastern Ukraine, The Associated Press reported.

In an address to the Russian people, which coincided with an emergency of the U.N. Security Council, Putin said clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces were “inevitable” and “only a question of time.”

Putin also added that further NATO expansion was “unacceptable.” The president added that circumstances “demand decisive action” from Russia, adding that the operation aims to “protect people.”

Putin warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen.”

He also said that any responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian “regime.”

Update 9:45 p.m. EST Feb. 23: U.N Secretary-General ⁦Antonio Guterres addressed the organization’s Security Council, which assembled in an emergency meeting requested by Ukraine, telling Russian President Vladimir Putin to “give peace a chance.”

“If indeed an operation is being prepared I have only one thing to say,” Guterres said. “Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”

Felix Hoxha, of Albania, called the escalating tensions a “senseless madness”.

“Russian wars have nothing to do with its security,” Hoxha said. “This is a confrontation between Russia and international law.”

Update 9:21 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the U.S. has ended waivers and has imposed sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG -- the parent company of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

“All property and interests in property of those sanctioned that are in or come within the United States or are in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC),” Blinken said in his statement. ”Individuals and entities knowingly engaged in sanctionable conduct related to Nord Stream 2 face similar sanctions risks.”

Update 8:01 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Flight paths along Ukraine’s northeastern border are reportedly closed, according to the Kyiv Independent. The newspaper, citing a report from ZN media, said that airports in Kharkiv, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia are closed and runways are blocked in case of a possible attack.

Russia, meanwhile, issued a NOTAM (notice to airmen or notice to air missions) banning civil aircraft from flight routes along Ukraine’s northeastern border, CNN reported.

The notice remains in effect through May 18, the news organization reported.

Update 7:14 p.m. EST Feb. 23: The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday night to discuss Ukraine, diplomats said, Reuters, CNN and The Guardian reported. The meeting was requested by Ukraine, according to The Associated Press.

Update 7:09 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Ukraine’s parliament and other government and banking websites were hit with another wave of cyberattacks on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press. Cybersecurity researchers said that unidentified attackers had also infected hundreds of computers with malware.

ESET Research Labs said it detected a new data-wiping piece of malware in Ukraine on “hundreds of machines in the country.” It was unclear how many networks were affected, the AP reported.

“Cyber attack also hit websites of ministries of infrastructure, strategic industries and education,” the Kyiv Independent newspaper reported.

Update 6:30 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday but was unsuccessful, CNN and The Associated Press reported. Zelensky posted an announcement on his official Facebook account early Thursday.

“Today I initiated a telephone conversation with the president of the Russian Federation. Silence. Although there should be silence in the Donbas,” Zelensky said.” This step could be the start of a big war on the European continent. The whole world is talking about what could happen any day now.

Any provocation. Any flare-up -- one that could burn everything.”

In a late-night televised speech, Zelensky spoke Russian to “address Russian citizens as a citizen of Ukraine,” according to the BBC.

“Hear us. The Ukrainian people want peace,” Zelensky said. “The Ukrainian authorities want peace.”

Update 5:28 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Vitaly Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, has declared an emergency for the Ukrainian capital effective midnight local time, according to CNN.

Klitschko posted a message on his official Telegram channel, stating that an “operational headquarters has been set up to coordinate the actions of the executive branch, the military command and law enforcement agencies.”

The mayor added that the measures would also include “strengthening the protection of public order and facilities that ensure the life of the city.” Mass events and protests will be prohibited, along with the “production and distribution of information materials that may destabilize the situation.”

Update 4:25 p.m. EST Feb. 23: White House press secretary Jen Psaki called reports that rebels in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday asked Russia for military assistance in response to Ukrainian “aggression” an example of one of Russia’s “false flag operations” aimed at providing the pretext to go to war.

“As we’ve said from the beginning, there are going to be a range of false flag operations,” Psaki said. “This is an example of it. That is suggesting that they feel under threat -- by whom? The Ukrainians that the Russians are threatening to attack?”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said rebel chiefs contacted Russian President Vladimir Putin to say that shelling by the Ukrainian military had claimed civilian lives and forced people to flee, The Associated Press reported. Both Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian officials have accused each other of shelling in recent weeks as tensions between Russia and Ukraine have continued to rise.

Update 3:55 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials believe that additional Russian forces were moving Wednesday into the so-called Dunetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine in anticipation of military action.

“We continue to see (Russian President Vladimir Putin) form his capabilities in such a way that leads us to believe that we are potentially close to some sort of action,” Kirby said at a news conference. “What we see is that Russian forces continue to assemble closer to the border and put themselves in an advanced stage of readiness to act, to conduct military action in Ukraine ... at virtually anytime now.”

He stressed that officials don’t know exactly what action Putin plans to take or when he will take it.

“We believe that they are ready,” Kirby said. “I’ll just leave it at that.”

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that more than 150,000 Russian troops were surrounding Ukraine.

Update 3 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Ukraine’s parliament voted Wednesday to approve a state of emergency for the country, according to The Associated Press and The Guardian.

The decree will take effect Thursday and last 30 days, The Guardian reported.

Update 2 p.m. EST Feb. 23: President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced sanctions on the company that built the 750-mile Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia.

Biden said the sanctions will apply to Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers. They were announced one day after German officials said they had halted the Nord Stream 2 project following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to sign a decree recognizing a pair of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

“These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement. “As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”

Update 1:45 p.m. EST Feb. 23: A senior U.S. defense official in Washington says the Russian forces arrayed along Ukraine’s borders are “as ready as they can be” for an invasion, if ordered to launch it.

U.S. authorities have estimated that Russia has more than 150,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus.

About 80% of those forces are now in “what we would consider forward positions, ready to go,” the official said, adding that they are within 5 to 50 kilometers (3 to 31 miles) of the border. The official added “we still cannot confirm that Russian forces have moved into the Donbas (a rebel-held area in eastern Ukraine).”

The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.

The official said the U.S. has indications — based on intelligence as well as visual evidence — that “they (Russian forces) have advanced their readiness to a point where they are literally ready to go now, if they get the order to go.”

Update 1:20 p.m. EST Feb. 23: The U.S. and U.K. believe that an attack by Russia on Ukraine is imminent, according to multiple reports published Wednesday.

An unidentified U.S. official told Newsweek that authorities contacted Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zalensky to warn that U.S. intelligence indicated it was “highly likely” that Russia would launch an invasion of Ukraine “within 48 hours.” The Guardian reported that officials in the United Kingdom also shared the belief that an attack would be launched in the coming days.

Similar claims of an imminent invasion have failed to come to fruition in recent weeks, prompting Ukrainian officials to view the warnings with some caution, according to CNN and The Guardian.

In an off-camera briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday, a senior U.S. Defense Department official told CNN that Russian President Vladimir Putin had amassed nearly “100% of all the forces that we anticipated that he would move in.”

Update 12:45 p.m. EST Feb. 23: European Union sanctions against Russia have come into effect.

They are the first steps in a planned series of retaliatory measures devised to be cranked up if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack or pushes his troops deeper into Ukraine.

The sanctions that took effect Wednesday targeted senior Russian government officials, several companies and hundreds of lawmakers who voted in favor of recognizing the independence of separatist parts of southeast Ukraine.

The sanctions are mostly a freeze on the assets of those listed and a ban on them traveling in the 27-nation EU.

The measures come on top of a slew of economic and other sanctions slapped on Russia since it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Those sanctions already targeted Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors, as well as goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

Update 11:10 a.m. EST Feb. 23: Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation said officials were dealing Wednesday with a mass cyberattack targeting government websites and several banks.

In a post on Telegram, Mykhailo Fedorov said the DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attack began around 4 p.m. local time (9 a.m. EST) and targeted the websites of the Ukrainian parliament, Cabinet and foreign ministry. He said they also caused interruptions or delays on the sites of the defense and internal affairs ministry, which controls the police.

Officials worked Wednesday to restore the affected services.

The incident marked the second in days in which the Ukrainian government was targeted by a large-scale DDoS attack, Politico reported. Officials earlier said that they have seen warnings online stating that hackers planned to launch attacks on government agencies, banks and the defense sector, according to BBC News.

NATO has blamed recent cyberattacks in Ukraine on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and warned further attacks were likely as tensions over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine mounted.

Update 10:50 a.m. EST Feb. 23: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he was disappointed with the U.S. and NATO in a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, officials said Putin and Erdogan spoke about the “theme of the development of long-term legal guarantees of the security of the Russian Federation.”

“In this context, Vladimir Putin expressed his disappointment with the reaction of the United States and NATO, which amounted to an attempt to ignore legitimate Russian concerns and demands,” the statement read.

Officials with Erdogan’s office told Reuters that the Turkish president told Putin that military conflict in the area would not benefit anyone.

“President Erdogan, who renewed his call for the matter to be resolved through dialogue, stated that it was important to bring diplomacy to the forefront, and that (Turkey) continued its constructive stance in NATO as well,” officials said, according to Reuters.

Update 10:15 a.m. EST Feb. 23: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Wednesday for “immediate” security guarantees from the West and Moscow as the threat from Russia continued to loom, according to The Guardian.

Speaking at a joint media appearance with the leaders of Poland and Lithuania, the newspaper reported that Zelensky said he has tried to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate amid the ongoing tensions.

“Ukraine needs security guarantees. Clear, specific, and immediate,” he said, according to The Guardian. “I believe that Russia must be among those countries giving clear security guarantees.”

Tensions have risen between Ukraine and Russia in recent weeks. On Monday, Russia began what the U.S. characterized as the start of an invasion of Ukraine when Putin acknowledged a pair of separatist regions in the eastern part of the country. On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden said more than 150,000 Russian troops were surrounding Ukraine.

Update 9:20 a.m. EST Feb. 23: Russian officials on Wednesday called sanctions on the country announced one day earlier by U.S. President Joe Biden “ineffective and counterproductive from the point of view of American interests.”

In a statement issued by the country’s foreign ministry, officials called the sanctions part of “Washington’s ongoing attempts to change Russia’s course.”

“Russia has proved that, with all the sanctions costs, it is able to minimize the damage,” the statement read. “And even more so, sanctions pressure is not able to affect our determination to firmly defend our interests.”

Officials said they remained open to diplomacy “based on principles of mutual respect, equality and consideration of each other’s interests.”

“There should be no doubt that sanctions will be given a strong response, not necessarily symmetrical, but measured and sensitive for the American side,” the statement read.

Biden announced what he called the “first tranche” of sanctions on Russia one day after the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, acknowledged a pair of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions target Russian banks and oligarchs.

Update 8:07 a.m. EST Feb. 23: Russia’s state-run media agency, Tass, is reporting that Russia has begun to evacuate its diplomatic personnel from Ukraine, according to The Associated Press.

Update 7:05 a.m. EST Feb. 23: Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council said Wednesday that it is asking the country’s parliament to declare a 30-day state of emergency, which could later be extended, CNN is reporting.

Lawmakers are expected to approve the move, which would apply to all areas except for Donetsk and Luhansk, within the next 48 hours, according to the news outlet.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry urged citizens to refrain from traveling to Russia, The Guardian reported. Any Ukrainians currently in Russia should leave immediately, officials said.

Update 5:20 a.m. EST Feb. 23: In his general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis said his “heart aches” over the worsening situation in Ukraine.

“Despite the diplomatic efforts of the last few weeks, increasingly alarming scenarios are opening up,” the pope said, according to a readout on the Vatican’s website. “Like me, many people all over the world are feeling anguish and concern. Once again, the peace of all is threatened by partisan interests. I would like to appeal to those with political responsibility to examine their consciences seriously before God, who is the God of peace and not of war; who is the Father of all, not just of some, who wants us to be brothers and not enemies. I pray that all the parties involved refrain from any action that would cause even more suffering to the people, destabilising coexistence between nations and bringing international law into disrepute.”

He also called for everyone to “dedicate themselves intensely to prayer and fasting” for peace on March 2, Ash Wednesday.

“May the Queen of Peace preserve the world from the madness of war,” he said, according to the readout.

Update 5 a.m. EST Feb. 23: In a video statement Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he remains open to diplomacy, CNN is reporting.

“We can see the difficult international situation and the threats posed by current challenges, such as the erosion of the arms control system and NATO’s military activities. And yet, Russia’s appeals to build a system of equal and indivisible security that would reliably defend all countries, remain unanswered,” Putin said in the message, which was released for Russia’s Defender of the Fatherland holiday.

“Our country is always open to a direct and honest dialogue and ready to search for diplomatic solutions to the most complicated issues,” the statement continued. “But I want to repeat that Russia’s interests and the security of our people are an indisputable priority. So, we will continue to strengthen and modernise our Army and Navy, striving to increase their effectiveness, so they are fitted out with the most cutting-edge equipment.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Western nations to continue to impose sanctions on Russia, according to The Guardian.

“First decisive steps were taken yesterday, and we are grateful for them,” Kuleba tweeted Wednesday. “Now the pressure needs to step up to stop Putin. Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now.”

Ukrainian lawmakers also voted to approve sanctions on more than 350 Russians, including restrictions on entering the country and accessing assets, The Guardian reported.

Update 1 a.m. EST Feb. 23: Australia and Japan have announced new sanctions against Russia.

According to The Associated Press, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday said the country will impose sanctions and travel bans targeting eight members of the Russian Security Council. Australia also will expand its previous sanctions to include two Russian banks, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Wednesday that Japan will ban the new issuance and distribution of Russian bonds in the country, according to the news outlet. In addition, Japan will ban trade with Donetsk and Luhansk – the two Ukrainian rebel regions – as well as suspend the issuance of visas and freeze the assets of people linked to those areas, the AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.