Russia’s escalation Wednesday came as President Joe Biden, in his State of the Union speech to Americans on Tuesday night, warned that if the Russian leader didn’t “pay a price” for the invasion, the aggression wouldn’t stop with one country.
Here’s a look at key things to know about the conflict:
WHAT’S HAPPENING ON THE GROUND
A 40-mile (64-kilometer) convoy of hundreds of Russian tanks and other vehicles advanced slowly on Kyiv, a city of nearly 3 million people. The West feared it was part of a bid by Putin to topple the government and install a Kremlin-friendly regime. The Russians also pressed their assault on other towns and cities, including the strategic ports of Odesa and Mariupol in the south.
A senior U.S. defense official said Russia’s military progress has slowed, plagued by logistical and supply problems. Some Russian military columns have run out of gas and food, the official said, and morale has suffered as a result. The Russian military has also been stalled by fierce resistance on the ground and a surprising inability to completely dominate Ukraine’s airspace.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it had evidence that Belarus, a Russian ally, is preparing to send troops into Ukraine. A ministry statement posted early Wednesday on Facebook said the Belarusian troops have been brought into combat readiness and are concentrated close to Ukraine’s northern border. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said his country has no plans to join the fight.
On Tuesday, there were attacks on the central square in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and a deadly bombing of a TV tower in the capital. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the attack on Kharkiv “undisguised terror.”
Ukrainian authorities said five people were killed in the attack on the TV tower. A TV control room and power substation were hit, and at least some Ukrainian channels briefly stopped broadcasting, officials said.
Russia previously told people living near transmission facilities used by Ukraine’s intelligence agency to leave their homes.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed Wednesday that Russian aviation disabled the main TV tower in an airstrike, but said the attack did not hit any residential buildings. Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov did not address the deaths from Tuesday’s strike or damage to the adjacent Babi Yar memorial to Kyiv’s Holocaust victims. He said the attack was aimed at disabling Ukraine’s ability to stage “information attacks.”
Britain’s Defense Ministry said it had seen an increase in Russian air and artillery strikes on populated urban areas over the past two days. It also said three cities — Kharkiv, Kherson and Mariupol — were encircled by Russian forces.
Many military experts worry that Russia may be shifting tactics. Moscow’s strategy in Chechnya and Syria was to use artillery and air bombardments to pulverize cities and crush fighters’ resolve.
Biden used his firs t State of the Union address to highlight the resolve of a Western alliance that has worked to rearm the Ukrainian military and adopt tough sanctions — including closing U.S. airspace to all Russian flights.
Biden devoted the first 12 minutes of his address to Ukraine, with lawmakers of both parties repeatedly rising to their feet and applauding as he praised the bravery of Ukraine’s people and condemned Putin’s assault.
RUSSIA INCREASINGLY ISOLATED
Russia found itself increasingly isolated, hit by sanctions that have thrown its economy into turmoil and left the country practically friendless, apart from a few nations like China, Belarus and North Korea. Biden said the sanctions have left Russian President Vladimir Putin ”isolated in the world more than he has ever been.”
Leading Russian bank Sberbank announced Wednesday that it is pulling out of European markets amid tightening Western sanctions. The bank said its subsidiaries in Europe were facing an “abnormal outflow of funds and a threat to the safety of employees and branches,” according to Russian news agencies. They did not provide details of the threats.
The U.S. and EU have levied sanctions on Russia’s biggest banks and its elite, frozen the assets of the country’s Central Bank located outside the country, and excluded its financial institutions from the SWIFT bank messaging system .
The harsh sanctions and the resulting crash of the ruble have the Kremlin scrambling to keep the country’s economy running. For Putin, that means finding workarounds to the Western economic blockade.
Former Treasury Department officials and sanctions experts expect Russia to try to mitigate the impact of the financial penalties by relying on energy sales and leaning on the country’s reserves in gold and Chinese currency. Putin also is expected to move funds through smaller banks and accounts of elite families not covered by the sanction s, deal in cryptocurrency and rely on Russia’s relationship with China.
THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION
It’s worsening. Roughly 660,000 people have fled Ukraine, and countless others have taken shelter underground. The death toll was unclear, with neither Russia nor Ukraine releasing the number of troops lost. The U.N. human rights office said it has recorded 136 civilian deaths. The actual toll is likely much higher.
Human Rights Watch said it documented a cluster bomb attack outside a hospital in Ukraine’s east in recent days. Residents also reported the use of the weapons in Kharkiv and Kiyanka village. The Kremlin denied using cluster bombs.
The European Union is stepping up aid for Ukraine and is moving toward granting temporary protection to those fleeing Russia’s invasion. The EU Commission announced Wednesday it will give temporary residence permits to the refugees and allow them rights to education and work in the 27-nation bloc. The move still has to be approved by the member states, but they already expressed broad support over the weekend.
DEVELOPMENTS AT THE UNITED NATIONS
The U.N. General Assembly will vote Wednesday on a resolution demanding that Russia immediately stop using force against Ukraine and withdraw its military from the country, and condemning Moscow’s decision “to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces.”
The 193-nation General Assembly met Tuesday for a second day of speeches about the war, with more than 110 member states signed up to speak. Unlike the U.N. Security Council, the General Assembly doesn’t allow vetoes. And unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions aren’t legally binding, though they have clout in reflecting international opinion.
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