By DASHA LITVINOVA, YURAS KARMANAU and JIM HEINTZ
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) – Kremlin says rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have called on Russia for military assistance on Wednesday to help prevent “aggression” from Ukraine, while Ukraine has declared a state of emergency nationwide amid growing fears of a total invasion of Russian troops.
Moscow’s announcement immediately fueled fears that the rebels’ request was a pretext for war, a tactic the West had warned for weeks.
Anxiety over an impending Russian offensive against its neighbor has risen after Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged the independence of separatist regions and the West responded with sanctions.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said rebel leaders had written to Putin, urging him to intervene after the Ukrainian bombings caused civilian deaths and paralyzed vital infrastructure.
The separatists’ call comes after Putin sanctioned the deployment of troops in the rebel territories to help “keep the peace” and parliament granted him permission to use military force outside the country.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Russian separatists’ request for help was an example of the kind of “false flag” operation the United States and its allies hoped Moscow would use as a pretext for war.
“So we will continue to denounce what we see as false flag operations or efforts to spread misinformation about what the actual state of the art is on the ground,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the country had requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. He called the separatists’ request “another escalation of the security situation.”
In Ukraine, lawmakers approved President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decree imposing a state of emergency for 30 days from Thursday. The measure allows authorities to impose curfews and traffic restrictions, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order.”
The action reflected growing concern among Ukrainian authorities after weeks of trying to project calm. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised against traveling to Russia and recommended that Ukrainians who are there leave immediately.
“For a long time, we have refrained from declaring a state of emergency … but today the situation has become more complicated,” the head of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, told Parliament, stressing that Moscow’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine represented the main threat.
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly expressed concern that pro-Russian groups in the country may try to destabilize it, including a pro-Moscow political party represented in parliament.
The introduction of the state of emergency follows Putin’s decision on Monday to recognize the independence of the rebel regions of eastern Ukraine, where a nearly eight-year conflict has killed more than 14,000 people.
Russia evacuated its embassy in Kiev on Wednesday as hopes of a diplomatic exit to a potentially devastating new war in Europe faded. The United States and major European allies accused Moscow of crossing the red line on Tuesday as it crossed the Ukrainian border into an eastern separatist region known as the Donbas, and some called it an invasion.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the Russian force of more than 150,000 troops deployed along Ukraine’s borders is in an advanced state of readiness. “They’re ready to go right now,” Kirby said.
The latest images released by the satellite imagery company Maxar show Russian troops and military equipment deployed less than 10 miles from the border with Ukraine and less than 50 miles from Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv.
In response to Russia’s action, President Joe Biden allowed sanctions to be advanced against the company that built Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany and against the company’s general manager.
“Today, I have ordered my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers,” Biden said in a statement. “As I made it clear, we will not hesitate to take further action if Russia continues to escalate.”
Germany said on Tuesday it was suspending the project indefinitely, after Biden accused Putin of launching “the start of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” by sending troops to the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine. The pipeline is complete but has not yet started operating.
Biden waived sanctions last year against Nord Stream 2 AG, when the project was nearing completion, in exchange for an agreement by Germany to take action against Russia if it used gas as a weapon or attacked Ukraine.
Putin said on Tuesday that he had not yet sent Russian troops to the rebel regions, contrary to Western claims, and Donetsk rebel leader Denis Pushilin insisted on Wednesday that there were no Russian troops in the region, although a local council member said the day before. who moved. en.
Ukrainian Digital Transformation Minister Mykhailo Fedorov said a wave of denial-of-service attacks had hit official websites and some banks on Wednesday. The assailant left the parliament, cabinet and Foreign Ministry sites offline and caused interruptions or delays at the premises of the Ministry of Defense and Interior, which controls the police.
Many of the same sites were similarly taken offline in attacks last week that the U.S. and UK governments quickly blamed on the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. Wednesday’s attacks seemed to have less of an impact than the previous attack, and targeted sites soon became accessible again.
At other events, Kiev recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow; dozens of nations have further expelled Russian oligarchs and banks from international markets; The United States repositioned additional troops on the eastern flank of NATO bordering Russia; and the top American diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.
Already, the threat of war has shattered Ukraine’s economy and lifted the specter of mass casualties, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.
Although the conflict has taken a dangerous new turn, leaders have warned it could get worse. Putin has yet to release the force of 150,000 troops concentrated on three sides of Ukraine, while Biden withdraws from even tougher sanctions that could cause economic turmoil for Russia, but said they would go ahead if there are more aggressions.
European Union sanctions against Russia came into force, targeting several companies along with 351 Russian lawmakers, who voted in favor of a motion urging Putin to recognize rebel regions, and 27 senior government officials, business executives and senior military officials .
The Russian Foreign Ministry has ruled out sanctions, saying that “Russia has shown that, with all the costs of sanctions, it is able to minimize the damage.”
In eastern Ukraine, violence has risen again. A Ukrainian soldier has been killed and six others injured in rebel bombings, according to the Ukrainian army. Separatist officials reported overnight several explosions on their territory and three civilian deaths.
In the wake of the 193-member UN General Assembly, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasili Nebenzia warned Ukraine that Russia would monitor the ceasefire in the east and stressed that “no one intends to go softly, smoothly with no offender “.
“A new military adventure” in Kiev “could cost the whole of Ukraine dearly,” he warned ominously.
After weeks of rising tensions, Putin’s steps this week have drastically raised the stakes. He acknowledged the independence of those separatist regions, a measure he said extended to much of the territory now held by Ukrainian forces, and made parliament grant him the authority to use military force outside the country.
Putin has set out three conditions that he said could end the confrontation, urging Kiev to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed to Ukraine in 2014, to give up its attempt to join NATO. and had partially demilitarized. Ukraine has long rejected such demands.
Litvinova reported from Moscow. Angela Charlton in Paris; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Contributing Lorne Cook in Brussels, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Frank Bajak in Boston, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian, and Darlene Superville in Washington.
Follow AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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