Russia attacks Ukraine
Modi speaks to Putin, calls for immediate cessation of violence
New Delhi: Russian forces have unleashed an attack on Ukraine on the orders of Vladimir Putin, who announced a "special military operation" at dawn, amid warnings from world leaders that it could spark the biggest war in Europe since 1945.
Within minutes of Putin's short televised address, at about 5 am Ukrainian time, explosions were heard near major Ukrainian cities, including the capital, Kyiv. The scope of the Russian attack appears to be massive. Ukraine's Interior ministry reported that the country was under attack from cruise and ballistic missiles, with Russia appearing to target infrastructure near major cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Dnipro.
By mid-afternoon on Thursday, Russia's defence ministry claimed to have "neutralised" Ukraine's airbases and air defences, destroying 74 military ground facilities, including 11 airfields, three command posts and 18 radar stations for anti-aircraft missile systems.
In a worrying development, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl plant, and a Ukrainian official said Russian shelling hit a radioactive waste repository and an increase in radiation levels was reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter. Other governments did not immediately corroborate or confirm the claims.
The plant was the site of the world's worst nuclear accident when a nuclear reactor exploded in April 1986, spewing radioactive waste across Europe. The plant lies 130 kilometres north of the capital of Kyiv.
Zelenskiy responded to the invasion by declaring martial law and calling on all citizens who were ready to defend the country from Russian forces to come forward, saying Kyiv would issue weapons to everyone who wanted them.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday spoke with the Russian President on the Ukraine conflict and appealed for an immediate cessation of violence as well as concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations.
During their telephonic conversation, Putin briefed Modi about the recent developments regarding Ukraine, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.
Modi reiterated his long-standing conviction that the differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue, the PMO said.
He appealed for an immediate cessation of violence, and called for concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue, it said.
Modi also sensitised the Russian President about India's concerns regarding the safety of the Indian citizens in Ukraine, especially students, and conveyed that India attaches the highest priority to their safe exit and return.
The leaders agreed that their officials and diplomatic teams would continue to maintain regular contacts on issues of topical interest, the PMO said.
An Air India flight — AI 1947 — that took off for Kyiv at 7.24 am on Thursday from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport to bring back Indian nationals looking to leave Ukraine, had to turn back midway after Kyiv's Boryspil airport was closed for civilian flights due to the onset of a military invasion by Russia.
The Air India flight landed back in Delhi at 12.35 pm. Seven crew were on board the plane that was dispatched to bring back Ukraine-based Indians who wanted to leave the country due to escalating tensions and following advisories to do so.
Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Council, the political decision-making body of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), will strengthen land, sea and air forces on its eastern side after Putin ordered a military offensive on Ukraine, stating the US and its allies had crossed Russia's "red line" by expanding the NATO alliance.
In a statement on Thursday, NATO said it "will continue to take all necessary measures to ensure the security and defence of all Allies".
"We are deploying additional defensive land and air forces to the eastern part of the Alliance, as well as additional maritime assets. We have increased the readiness of our forces to respond to all contingencies," it stated.
"We have decided, in line with our defensive planning to protect all Allies, to take additional steps to further strengthen deterrence and defence across the Alliance. Our measures are and remain preventive, proportionate and non-escalatory," NATO further said.
"We urge Russia in the strongest terms to turn back from the path of violence and aggression it has chosen. Russia's leaders must bear full responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Russia will pay a very heavy economic and political price," it added.
Earlier on Thursday, Ukraine sought India's support in defusing the crisis following the Russian attack on the country and said it was "deeply dissatisfied" with New Delhi's position on the deteriorating situation.
Ambassador of Ukraine Igor Polikha said Prime Minister Modi is among a very few global leaders to whom President Putin listens to and New Delhi can leverage its proximity with Moscow to control the situation.
"I am following all the reports on the site of your ministry and the latest advisory to your citizens in Ukraine," Polikha told the media.
"We are deeply dissatisfied with the Indian position. We are asking, pleading for the strong voice of India. In this case, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji can address Putin," he added.
Pleading for India's help, the ambassador said Ukraine is expecting a much more favourable approach from India. The ambassador particularly sought Prime Minister Modi's assistance.
In unleashing Moscow's most aggressive action since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, President Putin deflected global condemnation and cascading new sanctions and chillingly referred to his country's nuclear arsenal. He threatened any foreign country attempting to interfere with consequences you have never seen.
Ukraine's President said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl nuclear plant, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, and Ukrainian forces were battling other troops just miles from Kyiv for control of a strategic airport. Large explosions were heard in the capital there and in other cities, and people massed in train stations and took to roads, as the government said the former Soviet republic was seeing a long-anticipated invasion from the east, north and south.
The chief of the NATO alliance said the "brutal act of war" has shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders who decried the attack, which could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine's democratically elected government and upend the post-Cold War security order. The conflict was already shaking global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket.
Condemnation rained down not only from the US and Europe but from South Korea, Australia and beyond and many governments readied new sanctions. Even friendly leaders like Hungary's Viktor Orban sought to distance themselves from Putin.
The Ukrainian President cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law. "As of today, our countries are on different sides of world history," Zelenskyy tweeted. "Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won't give up its freedom."
His adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said: "A full-scale war in Europe has begun... Russia is not only attacking Ukraine, but the rules of normal life in the modern world."