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As Europe burns, Europeans search for firewood

World leaders react to Russia’s attack on Ukraine: ‘A dark day for Europe’

President Biden walks with European Council President Charles Michel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a June summit in Brussels. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
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President Biden promised that “the world will hold Russia accountable” for what he described as an “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that “Russia has vilely attacked us” and that the country was “defending itself and will not give up its freedom, as they think in Moscow. For Ukrainians, their independence and right to live on their own land freely is the highest value.”

Other global leaders were quick to condemn Russia’s actions and call for a decisive response. In some corners, including China and Iran, responses were somewhat muted.

Here’s how the world has responded.

European Union

European Union leaders criticized Russia on Thursday for “bringing war back to Europe” and promised to hit Moscow with tougher new sanctions for its “barbaric attack” on Ukraine, officials said. “We will not let President Putin tear down Europe’s security architecture,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted.

“These are among the darkest hours of Europe since the Second World War,” said the E.U.’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, as he called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop “this senseless aggression.”

The bloc will convene Thursday to work on fresh measures to hold Putin accountable, von der Leyen said in a statement. “With this package, we will target strategic sectors of the Russian economy by blocking their access to key technologies and markets,” she said. “And in addition, we will freeze Russian assets in the European Union and stop the access of Russian banks to the European financial market.”

An initial round of penalties announced Tuesday had targeted Kremlin officials, lawmakers and three banks and restricted Russian access to E.U. financial and capital markets.

Military trainers, missiles and over 200,000 pounds of lethal aid: What NATO members have sent Ukraine so far


North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned what he called Russia’s “reckless” attack on Ukraine, warning that it puts at risk “countless civilian lives.”

“This is a grave breach of international law, and a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security,” Stoltenberg said in a statement Thursday. “Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country,” he said.

NATO members agreed later Thursday to bolster their forces and deploy “additional defensive land and air forces to the eastern part of the Alliance, as well as additional maritime assets,” the organization said in a statement. “We also condemn Belarus for enabling this attack.”

“Peace on our continent has been shattered,” Stoltenberg later told reporters during a news conference in Brussels. “This is a deliberate, coldblooded and long-planned invasion. Russia is using force to try to rewrite history,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, European countries near the conflict, including Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, triggered consultations under Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty — a provision that can be launched when “the territorial integrity, political independence” of any NATO country is threatened.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, dared his Russian counterpart to confirm that a massive attack was underway on Feb. 23. (Video: United Nations)


German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there was “no justification” for Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.

“This is a terrible day for Ukraine and a dark day for Europe,” he said.

The German Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had “prepared for these events” and would now work with Group of Seven powers, NATO and the E.U. on Thursday to coordinate sanctions and strengthen security measures.

In recent years, Europe’s largest economy has expanded trade and energy ties with Moscow, including the construction of the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, built to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany. Earlier this week, Scholz said Berlin would stop the regulatory approval process following Moscow’s actions.

Germany’s former chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday also condemned Russia’s attacks on Ukraine and warned of an impending deep crisis in Europe.

“This war of aggression by Russia marks a profound turning point in the history of Europe after the end of the Cold War,” Merkel told Germany’s DPA news agency on Friday. “There is no justification whatsoever for this blatant breach of international law, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” she said from Berlin.

Merkel expressed solidarity with the Ukrainian people “in these frightful hours and days,” and backed efforts from the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and other global bodies to bring about a swift end to the conflict. She left office last year but was in power in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea.


President Emmanuel Macron in a televised address to the nation on Thursday vowed to back sanctions against Russia, saying Moscow’s attack on Ukraine amounts to the “most serious damage to peace and stability” Europe has faced in decades.

Macron called the events of the last 24 hours “a turning point in the history of Europe and our country.”

France holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, and Macron had cast himself as Putin’s interlocutor in recent weeks — claiming a central role in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia aimed at heading off such a conflict.

A spokesperson from the Élysée Palace said Macron had spoken on Thursday morning to Zelensky. “The President assured him of France’s full support and solidarity,” the statement said. Echoing NATO, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in a statement also pointed a finger of blame at Belarus, which it accused of supporting Russian aggression in Ukraine.

“[France] also condemns the use of the territory of Belarus, authorized by the Lukashenko regime, to carry out this aggression against a sovereign country,” he said.


Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid condemned Russia’s actions on Thursday and said Israel is “ready and prepared to provide humanitarian assistance to the citizens of Ukraine.” Lapid also said it wasn’t too late for more diplomacy between powers.

“Israel has deep, long-lasting, and good relations with Russia and with Ukraine,” he said. “There are tens of thousands of Israelis in both countries, and there are hundreds of thousands of Jews in both countries. Maintaining their security and safety is at the top of our considerations.”


China on Thursday appeared to deny backing Russia’s assault as it treaded a cautious line, after earlier this week stating that it recognized what it called Russia’s legitimate security concerns without explicitly endorsing the Kremlin’s actions.

At a news briefing Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying downplayed the suggestion that Beijing was supporting Moscow behind the scenes. “We won’t be like America and provide Ukraine a large amount of military equipment. Russia as a powerful nation also does not need China or other countries to provide” military assistance,” Hua said. But she added: “China did not wish to see what happened in Ukraine today.”

Analysis: The fallacy that links Putin’s views of Ukraine with Xi’s views of Taiwan

Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, on Wednesday urged all parties to “exercise restraint and avoid further escalation,” speaking to the U.N. Security Council. “We believe that the door to a peaceful solution to the Ukraine issue is not fully shut, nor should it be.”

Earlier this week, spokeswoman Hua warned authorities in Taiwan not to “try to exploit the Ukraine issue to its benefit. Taiwan is not Ukraine,” she tweeted. Another Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, posted on social media a list of wars and military actions undertaken by the United States and said: “Never forget who’s the real threat to the world.”

United Kingdom

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a prerecorded televised statement Thursday condemning Russia’s “hideous and barbaric” attack on Ukraine and vowing to join allies in launching a “massive package” of sanctions designed to “hobble” the Russian economy.

Johnson said his government would release details of a second tranche of sanctions soon. Earlier this week, Britain froze the U.K. assets of five Russian banks and three Russian oligarchs with close ties to Putin. The sanctions were described as weak by many, including lawmakers in Johnson’s own party.

Addressing the Ukrainian people directly, the prime minister said, “in this moment of agony, we’re with you, we’re praying for you and your families, and we are on your side.”

Johnson chaired an emergency meeting with cabinet ministers earlier Thursday and tweeted that he had spoken to Zelensky to discuss next steps. Britain’s foreign minister, Liz Truss, echoed his condemnation and said she had summoned the Russian ambassador in London to explain Russia’s actions and that Britain would be “imposing severe sanctions and rallying countries in support of Ukraine.”


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said late Wednesday that Canada “condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s egregious attack on Ukraine.” He called Russia’s “unprovoked actions” a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and of Russia’s obligations under international law.

“Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected and the Ukrainian people must be free to determine their own future,” he said in a statement.

Trudeau will be among the G-7 world leaders meeting Thursday to collectively respond to “Russia’s unwarranted aggression,” he said, which could include additional sanctions. “Russia’s brazen acts will not go unpunished,” Trudeau said.

Here’s where countries stand on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

South Korea

“As a responsible actor in the international community, South Korea supports and will join economic sanctions and other international efforts to deter the armed aggression and resolve the situation peacefully,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday.


Japan, the lone Asian member of the G-7, after years of trying to avoid antagonizing Moscow said Thursday it would be working with Western allies on the Ukraine crisis — as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida faces his first major foreign policy test since he took the helm in October.

Kishida, who navigated the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea as foreign minister, pledged to take a “tough response” in lock-step with Western allies. But so far, those actions have been largely symbolic. They include economic sanctions unveiled on Wednesday — before Russia’s attack — which involve suspending some visas and freezing assets of individuals connected to the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, banning imports and exports for the two regions, and the sale of Russian sovereign debt in Japan.

United Nations

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres made a last-minute plea on Wednesday to Putin to stop any aggression during the emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Early Thursday, Guterres said he was changing his appeal as circumstances on the ground had escalated.

“President Putin, in the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia,” Guterres said.

Separately, Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, tweeted that it was a “dark day for world peace.” He warned in a statement on Thursday that “the humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating. There are no winners in war.”


Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian appeared to side with Russia and blamed NATO for the looming crisis. The #Ukraine crisis is rooted in NATO’s provocations,” he tweeted.

Imperative to establish cease fire & to find a political and democratic resolution,” Amirabdollahian added.


President Sauli Niinisto said he strongly condemned the Russian attacks, describing them as an assault not just on Ukraine but also “on the entire European security order.”

He added that the leaders of Scandinavian countries including Sweden and Norway had spoken on Thursday morning and had “a shared view of the dangerous situation.”


Prime Minister Mario Draghi called the attack “unjustified and unjustifiable,” stating that his country was working with its European and NATO allies to respond “immediately.”

The Italian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Russia’s ambassador to Italy and condemned the “unprovoked aggression against Ukraine,” calling it “a violation of international law.”


A longtime ally of President Putin, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he had spoken with Putin on Friday.

“The Syrian president expressed strong support for the special military operation launched by Russia to protect the civilian population of the Donbas republics and condemned the destabilizing policy of the United States and NATO, which has caused a major degradation of the Middle East situation in the past,” the Kremlin’s media service said, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.

The Syrian presidency tweeted Friday that the two leaders had spoken, with Assad calling the Ukraine invasion a “correction of history and a restoration of balance to the world that it lost after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.” He also condemned what he called, “Western hysteria” in response.


India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke with Putin on Thursday and called for “concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations,” according to a readout from the Indian government. Modi’s language diverged sharply from the Western characterization of the Russian attack as a one-sided, unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation.

The State Department said Secretary Antony Blinken held a call with his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on Thursday to discuss “the importance of a strong collective response to Russian aggression.” India issued only a terse acknowledgment that the call took place.

For years, India has juggled its close relations with Russia — an enduring legacy of the Cold War — with its fast-growing ties with the United States, which has envisioned New Delhi as a crucial partner in its long-term strategy to counter China’s rise. But India’s balancing act is proving increasingly difficult this week as Russian tanks and fighters bear down on Kyiv in a war that has drawn a thick line between the West and Russia.

David L. Stern in Kyiv, Amanda Coletta in Toronto, Lily Kuo and Christian Shepherd in Taipei, Min Joo Kim in Seoul, Michelle Ye Hee Lee in Tokyo, Jennifer Hassan and William Booth in London, Rick Noack in Paris, Emily Rauhala in Brussels, Steve Hendrix in Karkom, Israel, Amar Nadhir in Bucharest and Gerry Shih in New Delhi contributed to this report.