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“Truly Appalling”: Russia Attacks Ukraine as Putin Ignores Diplomatic Pleas and Launches Invasion

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Russia has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, prompting condemnation and the threat of new sanctions from the U.S. and allies. Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the move early Thursday morning in Moscow as a “special military operation,” coming just days after Putin recognized two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as independent states. The sound of explosions was reported across the country, and authorities have reported scores of deaths in the early hours of the attack. As Russian forces appear to have invaded from the north and headed for Kyiv, Putin may try to take over all of Ukraine and replace its government, says Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, who adds, “The implications are truly, truly appalling.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Russia has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine from the north, east and south. Shelling and missile strikes have been reported in cities across Ukraine, which has also come under an intense cyberattack. Ukrainian officials say Russia has fired cruise and ballistic missiles at military installations and airfields near Kyiv. Video has emerged of one apartment complex that sustained heavy damage after being shelled.

The Russian invasion began just moments after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced what he called a “special operation” in Ukraine. The invasion comes just days after Putin recognized two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as independent states. Putin, who overseas the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, warned in his speech, quote, “No one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor,” Putin said. He ordered the invasion just as the United Nations Security Council was meeting in New York to discuss the crisis.

In a statement, President Biden said, quote, “President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.” President Biden is expected to speak today at noon about the Russian invasion. The U.S. and allies are vowing a new round of sanctions against Russia.

Earlier today, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russia’s invasion.

SECRETARY GENERAL JENS STOLTENBERG: Russia has attacked Ukraine. This is a brutal act of war. Our thoughts are with the brave people of Ukraine. Sadly, what we have warned against for months has come to pass, despite all calls on Russia to change course and tireless efforts to seek a diplomatic solution. Peace on our continent has been shattered. We now have war in Europe on a scale and of a type we thought belonged to history. 

AMY GOODMAN: Ukraine has said at least 40 Ukrainian soldiers and around 10 civilians have been killed in the early hours of the invasion. Ukraine is also claiming it’s downed seven Russian planes and two helicopters. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed Ukraine will resist the Russian invasion.

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY: [translated] The Ukrainian Armed Forces were involved in heavy fighting, repelling attacks in Donbas and other regions, east, north, south. The enemy sustained serious losses, and the enemy will sustain many more losses. They came on our land. … We are already handing out weapons, and we’ll hand them out to defend our country to everyone who wants and has the capacity to defend our sovereignty. The future of Ukraine depends on every citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of Ukrainians are fleeing the country. These are the voices of two Ukrainians who crossed into Poland earlier today.

UKRAINIAN EVACUEE 1: Feeling one at the middle of the night, you are awake because everybody calls you that the bomb — the bomb felt, and there is fires everywhere and different places, even such supposed not to be bombed, even western Ukraine, right?

UKRAINIAN EVACUEE 2: Really, we are feeling bad because it was unexpected, and we all want peace and quiet. We don’t want war. Please, like, stop, because people suffer from it. And we must — we must go out of the country because we have, like, no other choice.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin our show today with Anatol Lieven, senior fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author of numerous books on Russia and the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.

Well, this has certainly gone beyond fraternal, Anatol Lieven. Can you respond to the invasion, the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, we have to, obviously, absolutely, unequivocally, condemn this — I mean, condemn both the invasion but also the justifications given by President Putin for the invasion in his speech. I’m reminded of U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s response to the Japanese memorandum which accompanied the attack on Pearl Harbor. He said that in all his 50 years of public life, he had never read a document so packed with infamous lies. I think that pretty much sums up Putin’s speech, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip of Putin giving his address on the rationale for attacking Ukraine.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] The People’s Republic of Donbas asked Russia for help. In this regard, under Article 51, Part 7, of the Charter of the United Nations, with the approval of the Russian State Federal Council and in accordance with the friendship and mutual assistance treaties with the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic ratified by the Russian parliament on February 22nd, I decided to conduct a special military operation. It aims to protect people who have been bullied and subjected to genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years. For that, we will strive for demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine and will bring to justice those who committed multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including Russian citizens.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is President Putin. Anatol Lieven, his reasons for going into Ukraine — demilitarization and denazification — can you explain what he’s talking about?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, he is obviously aiming, first, to prevent, you know, as Russia indeed has been demanding for many, many years now, that Ukraine not form an alliance with the West. So that’s the demilitarization part. Of course, in the process, he clearly now intends to destroy the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

And denazification, now, I mean, this is terribly sinister, because it implies that he is going to attempt to destroy Ukrainian nationalism and, by one means or another, to eliminate, you know, the Ukrainian — those Ukrainian political parties that Russia sees as anti-Russian nationalist parties. Well, that, if carried through, implies extremely ferocious repression in the areas controlled by Russia.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you been shocked by what’s taken place?

ANATOL LIEVEN: I was not shocked by the invasion itself, because that has been clearly building for months now. I hoped that there would still be, you know, more time given for an attempt at a diplomatic compromise. But I think the Russian government decided that the West was simply not prepared to offer that. So I wasn’t shocked by the invasion.

I mean, what was a shock to me has been Putin’s language in his speech and what it implies, because — and also the fact that it would seem — this isn’t certain yet, but Russian forces appear to have invaded not just in the eastern and southern parts of the country, where the Russian-speaking population is concentrated, but they may have also invaded from the north heading for Kyiv. Now, if that is the case, then the Russian intention is obviously to take over the whole of Ukraine and replace the government in Kyiv. Now, you know, together with this talk of denazification, I mean, that — if this is actually what Russia is aiming at — and, you know, one always has to be cautious, because, you know, the phrase “the fog of war.” Obviously, in the initial stages of any conflict, it’s very difficult to say for sure what’s happening. But clearly, if the intention is to take over the whole of Ukraine, including Kyiv, and suppress Ukrainian nationalism, I mean, the implications of this for what’s going to happen in Ukraine are truly, truly appalling.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the political spectrum in Ukraine? I mean, you’ve got neo-Nazi paramilitaries, but you also have a president who’s Jewish, Zelensky.

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, yes. I mean, look, there are indeed fascistic parties and groups in Ukraine. I mean, that’s true, as far as it goes. And indeed they have had disproportionate influence. And I think it’s legitimate to blame the West for not having condemned these group more strongly and done more to put pressure on the Ukrainian government to suppress them. But equally, accusing the Ukrainian government itself and accusing President Zelensky of being some kind of Nazi and accusing the Ukrainian state of genocide, I mean, this is — these are monstrous lies on the part of Putin.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the role of Belarus, Anatol? Being — although Belarus is insisting they have not sent soldiers with the Russian soldiers coming from the north, they are clearly a launching ground.

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, yes. And I think, I mean, what this demonstrates is the fact that President Lukashenko, who previously tried to maintain a certain distance from Russia, you know, while being a partner but also trying to stress Belarus’s independence — and Lukashenko has had serious problems with Putin over the years. But I think that when the protests against Lukashenko’s regime erupted in recent years and the West threw its weight completely behind the Belarusian opposition, Lukashenko has decided that his only hope of the survival of his regime is to be allied as closely as possible with Russia. And, of course, that implies doing whatever Russia wants, including allowing Belarus to be used as a base to invade Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: There are reports of explosions being heard as far as Odessa on the Black Sea. Can you talk about the significance of this, and — can you talk about the significance of this, Anatol?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, it’s clear from the distribution of Russian air and missile attacks that the intention is to knock out the Ukrainian Air Force and Navy and as much as possible of Ukraine’s military forces all over the country — in other words, you know, that this is the classic opening stage of an invasion.

Now, what is not clear yet is how far the Russian ground invasion will go, because, obviously, that’s quite a different matter from knocking out the Ukrainian Air Force. And there, so far, you know, in the case of Odessa, for example, the reports have been contradictory. Initially, there were reports of Russian landings, then that was denied. We will have to see. I think it’s — it would be wrong to make any categorical statements at this point about the military situation on the ground, because, as I say, we’re in the classic stage of the fog of war. It’s not clear exactly what is happening.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden is going to make a national address today. What do you want to hear him say?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, it’s absolutely obvious that he and, you know, European governments, as well, have to introduce the toughest possible sanctions, economic sanctions, against Russia — there can be no question of that now whatsoever — and, obviously, must move in every international forum to condemn and isolate Russia diplomatically.

Of course, I mean, it will be interesting to see now how countries which in the past have sided with Russia against Western interventionism will now react to this Russian invasion of Ukraine. I mean, my sense is that it will receive overwhelming international condemnation, quite rightly, and perhaps that even the Chinese — while I think that for their obvious strategic reasons they will support Russia economically, I think even the Chinese will be cautious about trying to support or justify this invasion politically and diplomatically, because, I mean, you know, for many years now Russia and other countries have appealed to international law against the West, you know, over the invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of the Libyan state and so forth. Well, you know, now this is such an absolutely flagrant violation of the most basic international laws and the rules and principles of the United Nations, that unless China and other countries are going to be willing to look totally hypocritical, they have to denounce this.

AMY GOODMAN: Anatol Lieven, a bipartisan group of House members said, quote, “The American people, through their representatives in Congress, deserve to have a say before U.S. troops are placed in harm’s way or the U.S. becomes involved in yet another foreign conflict.” Your response?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, President Biden and all the NATO governments, and NATO itself, have have said that U.S. troops won’t be sent there. And this was underlined by the withdrawal of Western diplomats, the withdrawal of U.S. and other military observers and trainers, as well. So I don’t think that the U.S. representatives need to worry too much about that.

Now, I do have to say that the obvious refusal of the West to defend Ukraine, I mean, while it is completely justified because, A, we don’t have the troops in Europe to do this and, B, it would obviously risk the nuclear annihilation of mankind, but we do have to ask, I’m afraid — this may not be the right moment, but at some stage we do have to ask: Why, if we were not prepared to fight to defend Ukraine, we offered NATO membership to Ukraine? NATO membership implies, explicitly, a willingness to defend NATO members. If we weren’t going to defend Ukraine, why did we tell them they could become members of NATO?

AMY GOODMAN: But, I mean, have they been told that? I mean, isn’t that the key issue right now?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, I mean, you know, since 2008, America and Britain have pressed for NATO membership for Ukraine, and NATO, as a whole, has said that the door is open to Ukraine to join in the future. That, after all, was the principal Russian demand at the start of this crisis. [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you a quick final question, because I know you have to go, Anatol. Putin said, “No one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor,” the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. What do you think he’s saying?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, he’s saying just that, that if NATO goes to war with Russia, Russia is prepared to use nuclear weapons. That is why NATO is not going to go to war with Russia. But we should have thought of that before.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us. Anatol Lieven is a fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He’s the author of numerous books on Russia and the former Soviet republics, including Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry.

Next up, we look at the looming humanitarian crisis in Ukraine with Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who’s just back from Ukraine. He’ll speak to us from Oslo. Stay with us.

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Panic, Fear, Disbelief: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Could Prompt Humanitarian, Refugee Crisis

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