NATO chief says 100 jets ready to defend allies’ airspace as ‘peace in Europe shattered’

Peace in Europe has been “shattered” by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a war is unfolding “on a scale and of a type we thought belonged to history”, the head of NATO has said.

“This is a grave moment for the security of Europe,” the organisation’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said.

He added that Moscow’s attack was “unprovoked and unjustified”, describing it as a “deliberate, cold-blooded and long planned invasion” and a “blatant violation” of international law.

Explosions near major Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv – follow live updates

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Explosions in Ukraine’s second city

EU vows ‘harshest package of sanctions’ ever introduced

A summit of NATO alliance leaders has been called for Friday.

Amid an international outcry at Moscow’s actions, NATO ambassadors said in a statement after emergency talks that “we have increased the readiness of our forces to respond to all contingencies”.

The alliance has agreed to strengthen its land, sea and air forces on its eastern flank near Ukraine – but NATO will not launch any military action in support of Ukraine.

Mr Stoltenberg said NATO has more than 100 jets on high alert protecting its airspace.

Meanwhile, European leaders are poised to hit Russia with the “harshest package of sanctions” ever introduced after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said EU leaders would be asked to approve “massive and targeted sanctions” against Russia.

The new EU sanctions would be aimed at “strategic sectors” of the Russian economy by blocking access to technologies and key markets, Ms von der Leyen said.

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Putin announces ‘military operation’

“We will weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernise,” she added.

“In addition we will freeze Russian assets in the EU and stop the access of Russian banks to European financial markets.”

Ms von der Leyen said the fresh sanctions – aimed at taking a “heavy toll on the Kremlin’s interests and their ability to finance war” – would be “closely aligned” with action being taken by countries such as the US, UK, Canada, Japan and Australia.

She accused the Russian president of “trying to turn the clock back to the times of the Russian Empire” with his “barbaric attack” on Ukraine.

“It is President Putin who is bringing war back to Europe and in these dark hours the EU and its people stand by Ukraine and its people,” she said.

I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskyy to discuss next steps. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The UK and our allies will respond decisively.

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 24, 2022

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said the bloc’s leaders would adopt “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented”.

The UK has also promised an “unprecedented level of sanctions” against Russia following its fresh aggression on its neighbour, with G7 leaders set to speak on Thursday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Mr Putin of choosing a “path of bloodshed and destruction” after explosions were heard in Ukrainian cities in the early morning.

In address to the nation, he vowed to hit Russia with a “massive” package of economic sanctions designed to “hobble” its economy following the “vast invasion”.

Read more:Ukraine invasion – what is happening and where?How will the UK help Kyiv battle Russia?

‘Putin has made a serious mistake’

US President Joe Biden described Mr Putin’s decision to begin military operations as an “unprovoked and unjustified attack”, declaring: “The world will hold Russia accountable.”

Mr Biden added: “The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight.”

Mr Putin appeared on state TV in Moscow to announce the operation was going ahead as the UN Security Council was meeting in New York to urge his country not to invade Ukraine.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said the war “doesn’t make any sense” and could cause a “level of suffering not seen in Europe since the Balkan crisis”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the Russian attack on Ukraine was a “dark day” for Europe and new sanctions would show that “Putin has made a serious mistake with his war”.

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‘Russian vehicles’ move across border

In an address to the nation, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed solidarity with Ukraine and said its actions will have “durable and deep” consequences for Europe.

Irish PM Micheal Martin said the invasion was an “outrageous and moral breach of the most fundamental and basic principles of international law.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the “brutal” and “unprovoked” attack and said his country is considering sanctions against 300 members of the Russian parliament.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country condemned the Russian attack “in the strongest possible terms” and called for the immediate cessation of “all hostile and provocative actions against Ukraine”.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “This Russian invasion stands to put at risk the basic principle of international order that forbids one-sided action of force in an attempt to change the status quo.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for the “hardest possible sanctions” to be taken against “all those linked to Putin”.

“There will be dark days ahead,” he said. “But Putin will learn the same lesson as Europe’s tyrants of the last century: that the resolve of the world is harder than he imagines and the desire for liberty burns stronger than ever.”