Ukraine crisis: World faces ‘moment of peril’ says UN as Russian troops ‘ready to go’ for full invasion

UN warns Ukraine crisis could be of a ‘scale and severity ... unseen for many years’

David Harding,Thomas Kingsley
Wednesday 23 February 2022 20:35
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Boris Johnson announces extra military support to Ukraine

The world is facing “a moment of peril” over the Ukraine crisis, the UN has warned, as the White House said Russian troops massed at the border were “ready to go” for a full invasion.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, told the UN general assembly in New York that it is time for “restraint, reason and de-escalation” to avoid “a scale and severity of need unseen for many years”.

“It is time to establish a ceasefire and return to the path of dialogue and negotiation,” he said.

But there were increasing signs that diplomatic efforts to avoid a war in Europe may be too late.

A senior US defence official in Washington said the Russian forces arrayed along Ukraine's border are "as ready as they can be" for an invasion, with about 80% in “forward positions, ready to go” within three to 30 miles of the border.

In Kiev, Russia began evacuating its embassy and by Wednesday afternoon the Russian flag no longer flew over the building.

Ukraine's national security and defence council chief, Oleksiy Danilov, declared a national state of emergency, which was approved by parliament along with a law allowing citizens to carry firearms.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has also called up reservists to the country’s army.

In Britain, the culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, wrote to the regulator Ofcom about the Russian state-backed RT news channel, warning it could “look to spread harmful disinformation about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine”.

In a response, Ofcom’s chief executive, Dame Melanie Dawes, said it had “already stepped up our oversight of coverage of these events by broadcasters in the UK”.

The British defence secretary, Ben Wallace, said Vladimir Putin had gone “full tonto”, comparing him to Tsar Nicholas I during the Crimean War.

Mr Wallace, a former Scots Guards officer, said his regiment had “kicked the backside” of the tsar in the Crimea and “we can always do it again”.

The unguarded comments came as the cabinet minister spoke with serving military personnel at the Horse Guards building in Westminster.

The crisis took a turn for the worse on Monday when the Russian president recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and the neighbouring self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. The move prompted a backlash and seemed to undermine diplomatic attempts to resolve the crisis.

With a growing prognosis that the situation could end in war, the European Union was set to announce a stringent set of sanctions targeting Russian MPs and Moscow’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu. Also expected to be on the list was a St Petersburg troll factory. An announcement was expected later on Wednesday.

The sanctions are expected to target several members of President Putin’s inner circle.

The EU has been joined by Japan, the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada in announcing plans to target Russian banks and elites, while Germany has halted a major gas pipeline project from Russia.

Pope Francis on Wednesday said the threat of war in Ukraine had caused “great pain in my heart”, and urged politicians to make a serious examination of conscience before God about their actions.

On the ground in Ukraine, the Russian-backed leader of the breakaway Donetsk region said he wanted to peacefully settle its borders with Ukraine but reserved the right to ask “big Russia” for help.

Denis Pushilin, who heads the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said he favoured dialogue with Ukraine. But he told a news conference the situation in their long-running conflict had become critical and that the separatists had accelerated a mobilisation of forces, in which healthy men between 18 and 55 have been called up to fight.

“We will win. With people like this, we will win. With such a country, with big Russia, which we respect and value,” he said. “We have no right to lose, or even to doubt in our victory.”

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