Tanks and other heavy military machinery roared through the outskirts of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine for a second consecutive night Tuesday while Ukraine’s president called up his military reserves as Europe’s worst crisis in decades appeared to be taking a turn toward all-out war.
The tanks bore no identifying insignia, but they were first spotted hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two rebel-held enclaves in Ukraine as independent states and dispatched “peacekeeping” troops across his western border late Monday.
There is no way to determine how many Russian forces have entered eastern Ukraine over the past 24 hours, but some observers fear thousands may already be on Ukrainian soil, ready to carry out a large-scale attack once orders are given.
In a videotaped address Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his government in Kyiv needed to “quickly add additional staff to the Ukrainian army and other military formations,” though he added that “there is no need for a full mobilization.”
Zelensky said his decree applied only to those assigned to the so-called operational reserve, which is typically activated during ongoing hostilities, and covers “a special period of time,” without clarifying what that means. National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said earlier this year that Ukraine can call up to 2.5 million people.
“Ukrainians are a peaceful nation,” Zelensky said. “We want silence, but if we keep silent today, we will disappear tomorrow.”
The reserve call-up brought an end to a tension-filled day in Kyiv, Moscow and Washington, DC, during which:
- President Biden announced what he described as the “first tranche” of sanctions targeting Russia after Putin recognized two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent states, hours after the European Union and the United Kingdom announced similar punishment packages.
- The Kremlin confirmed it considered the territory of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” to include land held by Ukrainian government forces, raising the specter of a broader Russian attack.
- The German government announced it was halting the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would have provided Europe’s largest economy with natural gas directly from Russia under the Black Sea — and deprived Ukraine of lucrative gas transit fees.
- The Romanian government said it would be able to take in up to 500,000 refugees in the event of an all-out war between Russia and Ukraine.
- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that a planned Thursday meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would be scrapped “now that we see the invasion is beginning.”
Blinken made the announcement during a briefing with Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who in a whirlwind visit to Washington also met with Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
“Now that we see the invasion is beginning, and Russia has made clear its wholesale rejection of diplomacy, it does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time,” Blinken told reporters at the State Department. The secretary had said over the weekend that he had agreed to meet with Lavrov “unless Russia invades in the meantime.”
Meanwhile, Kuleba told Fox News he had received a commitment from the Biden administration that Ukraine would be provided with additional lethal aid, but declined to give further details.
“The problem is that we don’t have a clear understanding of Putin’s timeline, how much — how he planned his further actions,” Kuleba told “Special Report” host Bret Baier.
“Neither here in Washington nor back in Kyiv, we don’t have an exact understanding of that. So the only solution that we have under these circumstances is to act as swiftly as we can, and I would like to make it clear that the only weapons Ukraine is looking for are defensive weapons to defend our country.
“We’ve never asked the United States to send troops to Ukraine, and we have to be absolutely clear, we are not seeking American soldiers on the ground,” the foreign minister added. “But it is in the best interests of maintaining world order and protecting US interests abroad to provide as much help to Ukraine as possible.”
In Moscow, Russian lawmakers rubber-stamped Putin’s decision to dispatch troops and approve the construction of military bases in the disputed regions, where ongoing fighting since 2014 has killed more than 14,000 people.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced it had decided to shift its remaining personnel out of Ukraine, citing threats to their safety.
Late Tuesday, fresh satellite imagery detailed new activity by Russia’s military along the Ukraine border as well as in Belarus — seen by many as a shortcut for the Kremlin’s forces to reach the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
According to Maxar Technologies, which released the images, troops and equipment have been freshly deployed southwest of the border city of Belgorod, approximately 12 miles from Ukraine’s border and 50 miles from Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv. Nearby, on the western outskirts of Belgorod, a new field hospital had been constructed as part of a military garrison.
Elsewhere, near the town of Pochep, Maxar reported a large area was being cleared for additional deployments of equipment and personnel to join troops and military vehicles that are already present. About 25 miles from the Ukraine border, in the town of Klintsy, satellite images indicated the presence of heavy equipment transporters, used for moving tanks, artillery and other equipment.
In southern Belarus, satellite pictures showed more than 100 vehicles and dozens of troop tents at a small airfield near the city of Mazyr about 25 miles north of Ukrainian territory.
Russia has long denied it has any plans to invade Ukraine, instead blaming the US and its allies for the crisis and describing Ukraine’s bid to join NATO as an existential challenge to Russia.
Putin reiterated those accusations in an hourlong televised rant on Monday, where he announced Russia would recognize the rebels.
“Ukraine’s membership in NATO poses a direct threat to Russia’s security,” he said. at one point.