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Ukraine crisis: Biden announces sanctions on Russia

February 22, 2022

The US president announced financial sanctions against Russian banks in response to what he called the "beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.''

President Joe Biden speaks at the White House about sanctioning Russia over its actions in Ukraine
Biden announced new sanctions against Russia in response to its moves against UkraineImage: Alex Brandon/AP/picture alliance
  • UN chief concerned by 'perversion of peacekeeping'

  • Blinken cancels meeting with Lavrov on Ukraine

  • US sanctions Russian banks and elites

  • Russia has recognized and ordered troops into the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk

  • Germany says approval of Nord Stream 2 cannot go forward

  • Vladimir Putin says 'the best solution' is for Kyiv to drop its bid to join NATO

These live updates are now closed. Continue to follow DW for the latest. 

Guterres says Russian forces are not 'peacekeepers'

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday he was "concerned about the perversion of the concept of peacekeeping."

His statement on Tuesday came after Russian President Vladimir Putin and signed a decree ordering Russian troops into the separatist-held regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine for what the Kremlin called "peacekeeping" purposes.

"When troops of one country enter the territory of another country without its consent, they are not impartial peacekeepers. They are not peacekeepers at all," Guterres told reporters.

He added Russia's recognition of "the so-called 'independence'" of the separatist regions was "a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the media outside the Security Council chamber
Guterres said the world is facing "the biggest global peace and security crisis in recent years'' Image: John Minchillo/AP Photo/picture alliance

Blinken cancels meeting with Russia's Lavrov

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the US is prepared to continue putting pressure on Russia through sanctions if Moscow continues to escalate its aggression toward Ukraine

At a press conference alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken said Russia had made clear its "wholesale rejection of diplomacy," and said he had canceled a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, planned for Thursday in Geneva. 

"We will not allow Russia to claim the pretense of diplomacy at the same time it accelerates its march down the path of conflict and war,"Blinken said, while describing Russia's actions in Ukraine as "the greatest threat to Europe since WWII." 

Blinken also left the door open for diplomacy, saying, "If Moscow's approach changes I remain prepared to engage."

Kuleba called Russia's recognition of the separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine as "absurd" and urged the world to use its economic might to "hit Russia's economy now, and hit it hard."

"Condemnations are important, but its actions that matter," he said. 

US calls Russia's actions an 'invasion,'  announces sanctions

US President Joe Biden announced a "first tranche" of economic penalties against Russia on Tuesday. 

The sanctions target Russia's VEB and Promsvyazbank banks. Biden added that sanctions against Russia's sovereign debt meant that "we've cut off Russia's government from Western financing."

The measures would also target Russian "elites," and their family members.

"We have our next move prepared as well, Russia will pay an even steeper price if continues its aggressions," Biden warned. 

The US president said Putin is "setting up a rationale to go much further."

"This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine," he added.

Although he said the US had "no intention of fighting Russia," Biden ordered additional troops to shore up the Baltic states.

"The United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory," Biden said, adding that he still hopes diplomacy is possible.

A Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said F-35 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters were also being sent to the Baltic region and to Poland.

Pentagon: Putin 'can still avoid' war

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russian President Putin "can still avoid a full-blown, tragic war of choice." 

Austin was speaking at the Pentagon with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. 

Austin told Kuleba that Washington will continue to work closely with Kyiv and allies "in trying to find a way to avoid further conflict."

"My message is simple: [a] strong Ukraine is the best deterrence of Russia."

Kyiv residents react to Russia's actions in eastern Ukraine

Russia to evacuate its diplomats from Ukraine

Russia's Foreign Ministry announced that it has decided to evacuate its diplomatic staff from Ukraine. 

"To protect the lives and safety [of diplomats], the Russian leadership decided to evacuate the personnel of Russian foreign missions in Ukraine, which will be implemented in the near future," the ministry said in a statement. 

EU agrees new sanctions package

The European Union foreign ministers have agreed on sanctions targeting individuals and entities that "undermine Ukrainian integrity" the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. 

Borrell said the package "will hurt Russia, and it will hurt a lot.''

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters after a Paris meeting of the EU's top diplomats that they "unanimously agreed" to the sanctions package. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, outlined the possible sanctions on: 

•    Those involved in the decision to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk as "independent"
•    Banks financing Russian military and other operations in eastern Ukraine
•    The Russian state's access to the EU's capital and financial markets and services
•    Trade from Luhansk and Donetsk to and from the EU

Michel and von der Leyen concluded by emphasizing the EU's solidarity with Ukraine in what is a dire hour for European security, or what the statement by the two European presidents terms "the illegal actions of Russia."

Ukrainian deputy PM: West must impose 'severe' sanctions

Olga Stefanyshyna, Ukrainian deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, told DW that the Ukrainian military will make sure that "no inch of Ukrainian land is occupied."

"We're clear in our position that it's our territory. It has always been our territory and it will be our territory, regardless [of] any decision that Putin would take," Stefanyshyna said. 

"But what is essential is knowing that Ukraine will fight for its territorial integrity. Now EU, NATO, US and particularly Great Britain ... should impose severe individual sanctions to those who legitimized yesterday's decision to deter Russia from further military invasion."

Asked about the Minsk agreements, Stefanyshyna said that Putin "has shown a total negligence to any peaceful efforts, which has been taken for the last eight years."

"So now is the day where we should think that maybe dialogue and discussions is not the right instrument to deter," she added. 

Ukrainians prepare to defend their homeland

Putin lists demands, says Minsk agreements 'don't exist anymore'

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to reporters after parliamentarians approved the use of Russian forces abroad. 

Asked about the Minsk agreements, Putin said, "The Minsk agreements do not exist now, we recognized the DNR and LNR," Putin said, using the abbreviations for the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

"The Minsk agreements were destroyed long before yesterday's recognition," he said, blaming Ukraine for cease-fire violations.

Putin also listed some demands to end the crisis. He called for the international recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, an end to Ukraine's NATO membership bid and a halt to weapons shipments there. 

"The best solution to the issue would be if the current Kyiv authorities themselves refused to join NATO and maintained neutrality," Putin said.

He claimed that Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula should be recognized as a legitimate reflection of the local population's choice. 

NATO chief warns: Russia still planning 'full-scale' attack

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated warnings that Russia was planning a "further invasion" of Ukraine.

"Every indication is that Russia is continuing to plan for a full-scale attack of Ukraine," Stoltenberg told a news conference.

"We see that more and more of the forces are moving out of the camps and are in combat formations and ready to strike," he added.

Stoltenberg called recent developments a "serious escalation by Russia and a flagrant violation of international law.''

"We continue to call on Russia to step back ... it's never too late not to attack." 

Russian lawmakers approve Putin's request to use troops abroad

Russian parliamentarians have given President Putin permission to use military force outside the country.

In a letter to the Russian upper house of parliament, President Putin formally asked lawmakers to approve the use of Russian military force outside the country. 

The move formalizes a Russian military deployment to Moscow-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, a day after Putin recognized their independence.

A total of 153 Russian senators backed the decision, with no one voting against or abstaining. 

G7 ministers agree 'strong' sanctions

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock convened a call of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations to discuss the latest developments. 

"The G7 Foreign Ministers strongly condemn Russia’s violation of their international commitments. We agreed a strong package of coordinated escalatory sanctions in response," Britain's Liz Truss said after the call. 

It was not immediately clear what the measures would include. 

Following the call, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters that the ministers agreed to condemn Russia's recognition of Ukraine's separatist regions as independent, saying it was in violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as international law.

UK-led military drills planned in Baltic Sea

Defense ministers from 10 countries announced maneuvers in the Baltic Sea after talks in Britain. 

The UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) said in a statement they would "shortly conduct an exercise demonstrating JEF nations' freedom of movement" in the strategic zone.

"These and subsequent activities will remain preventative and proportionate," the statement added. 

"In acting together, we shall demonstrate the JEF's solidarity, capability and resolve to stand together for security and stability in our region."

The JEF is made up of NATO members Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom, and non-members Finland and Sweden.

It was set up in 2012 with a focus on security in the "High North" region around the Arctic, the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea area.

The ministers held talks in Britain on Tuesday and unanimously condemned President Putin's recognition of two pro-Moscow separatist regions in Ukraine and the deployment of troops there.

Six EU nations to send cybersecurity experts to Ukraine

Six EU countries, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania announced plans to send cybersecurity experts to help Ukraine in response to a request from Kyiv.

Russian military hackers were blamed for recent distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that took down banking and government websites in Ukraine, the US and the UK said last Friday.

US deputy national security adviser: 'invasion' underway

Jon Finer, the US deputy national security adviser, told CNN an invasion of Ukraine is underway.

"An invasion is an invasion and that is what is underway," Finer said.

A US official cited by the AP said the White House had decided to begin referring to Russia's actions as an "invasion'' because of the situation on the ground.

US President Biden was due to to provide an update later on Tuesday. 

Previously, Poland's Defense Ministry and British Health Secretary Sajid Javid also used the word "invasion."

By contrast, the EU's foreign policy chief stopped short of calling it an "invasion," and instead said, "Russian troops have entered in Donbas," adding he would not call it "a fully fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil."

Ukrainians in Berlin fear for families back home

German business leaders call off March meeting with Putin

Germany's Ost-Ausschuss Eastern Business Association has canceled its annual meeting with Russian President Putin, previously scheduled for March.

The organization officially cited time constraints. 

Chairman Oliver Hermes condemned Russia's recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk as "independent." He also urged the German government to remain open to dialogue with the Russian government.

Hungary will deploy troops to border with Ukraine

Hungary's Defense Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it will deploy some troops to its border with Ukraine, in part to prepare a humanitarian response, but also to protect the country's border.

The statement said, "Hungary's security is the most important, we are reinforcing the Ukraine-Hungary border."

US: Putin's speech 'delusional'

The most senior US diplomat in Ukraine, charge d'affaires Kristina Kvien, said Putin's speech Monday was not that of a reasonable man.

"His outrageous statements about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people were delusional, reflecting a warped vision reminiscent, not of a global leader, but of Europe's worst authoritarians," Kvien said.

UK's Johnson accuses Russia of picking fight 'fellow Slav country'

The UK announced sanctions against five Russian banks and three "very high-net-worth individuals" including oligarch Gennady Timchenko, who Prime Minister Boris Johnson called out by name before Parliament.

Boris Rotenberg and Igor Rotenberg are also being sanctioned by the UK.

Johnson accused Russia of picking a fight with "a fellow Slav country." He also called on Russian President Putin to step back from the brink.

The five Russian banks the UK sanctioned are Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

Putin denies intentions to rebuild Soviet empire

Putin said he recognizes the sovereignty of other countries that were once part of the former Soviet Union, though not Ukraine. Once considered "captive nations," many were incorporated by force into the Soviet Union at the end of World War 2 and the start of the Cold War, though Ukraine was absorbed in the interwar period.

He said Ukraine's sovereignty was in question due to "external influence" and also denied he intends to "restore the empire." 

Spring of Hope or Winter of Despair? 30 Years After the Collapse of the USSR

The old Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991 at the Belavezha villa at the Soviet state dacha near Viskuli in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, in what is modern-day Belarus. There, the leaders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine signed accords that dissolved what remained of the Soviet Union.

Putin has previously called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the twentieth century. The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania which were all incorporated into the former Soviet Union are currently members of NATO.

Kyiv recalls senior diplomat from Moscow

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said it had recalled the charge d'affaires at its embassy in Moscow for consultations on Tuesday. The post, usually the number two at an embassy, fulfills the functions of ambassador when there is not one in place or when an ambassador is out of the country.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv was considering severing diplomatic relations with Russia over the decision to recognize the occupied regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as "independent."

Germany's Nord Stream 2 dilemma

German chancellor says Nord Stream 2 cannot go ahead

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that Nord Stream 2 cannot go ahead now in these crisis circumstances. He said the approval process has been halted as Der Spiegel reports Germany's economics minister, Robert Habeck, has withdrawn the original positive certification of the pipeline.

The White House expressed its gratitude for the move, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki writing on Twitter, "We have been in close consultations with Germany overnight and welcome their announcement." 

Scholz also commended Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on his unwillingness to be provoked into a major conflict. He also said he still has hopes diplomacy and the Normandy Format talks consisting of Germany, France, Russia remain important.

Germany's stance on weapons exports to Ukraine remains unchanged, Scholz said, noting Germany would focus on providing economic support to Ukraine's ailing economy.

While Poland welcomed the announcement, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said, "This is better than nothing but far too little, one shouldn't keep supplying funds to an aggressive state."

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Russia's decision could negatively impact the security assessment for a joint Finnish-Russian nuclear plant in Pyhäjoki in the northwest of his country. Shortly after, the defense minister said Finland will reassess the overall safety of Rosatom’s nuclear project, Helsingen Sanomat reported.

Russian Duma votes to ratify 'independence' of Luhansk, Donetsk

The lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, voted Tuesday to ratify friendship treaties with Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Ukraine regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The vote concluded with a standing ovation from Duma members.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it will recognize the independent republics of Luhansk and Donetsk as the territories currently controlled by Russian-backed proxy forces.

Germany's AfD rejects sanctions on Russia

The parliamentary group of Germany's far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) said it rejects sanctions on Russia over its recognition of regions of eastern Ukraine as "independent."

Honorary chairman Alexander Gauland and foreign policy spokesman Petr Bystron placed blame on the West for the crisis.

"The current situation is a consequence of the eastward expansion the eastward expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War," Bystron said.

Far-right AfD still holds appeal in the east

They said the fate of the territories Russia has proclaimed "independent" would be decided by the local people in a referendum, a near replica of the actions that took place when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Bystron has aligned himself in the past with American far-right personalities who express similarly friendly views towards Russia.

Zelenskyy calls for Nord Stream 2 to be shutdown

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared at a joint press conference with Estonian President Alar Karis, his first public appearance since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to recognize occupied parts of eastern Ukraine as "independent."

Zelenskyy called for Nord Stream 2 to be shut down immediately and said the fate of European security would be decided in Ukraine today.

However, Zelenskyy added, "We believe that there will be no major war against Ukraine."

He also called on European nations to build up their defense capabilities immediately. He noted the threat to other nations by an expansionist power like Russia.

Erdogan slams Russia's recognition of occupied regions as 'unacceptable'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Russia's move to recognize the regions of eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian-backed separatists as "unacceptable" on Tuesday.

In a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Erdogan underscored Turkey is against any decision that targets Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Erdogan also called on both sovereign nations to respect international law.

Russia's foreign minister says Ukraine lacks the right to sovereignty

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Ukraine lacks the right to sovereignty.

He also dismissed the sanctions being imposed by Western nations.

"Well, we're used to it," Lavrov said, adding, "We know that sanctions will be imposed anyway, in any case. With or without reason."

Fighting picks up on the 'line of contact' overnight

Shelling reportedly continued on the line of contact between Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists in the two eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, according to a diplomatic source quoted by Reuters. 

Shelling intensifies in eastern Ukraine

The Ukrainian army recorded the deaths of two of its soldiers and said 18 more were seriously injured. One civilian in the town of Novoluhanske in the Donetsk region was also reportedly killed and five civilians there suffered injuries.

Fighting picked up overnight following Russian President Vladimir Putin's recognition of the two republics as "independent" from Ukraine.

Ukraine: Life on the front line

Russian allies Syria and Iran show support

Syria said it supports Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to recognize the self-proclaimed independent republics of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The Syrian state-run news agency SANA said Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told the Valdai discussion club in Moscow Tuesday, "What the West is doing against Russia today is similar to what it did against Syria during the terrorist war."

Russia has supported its ally, Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad, militarily since he faced a popular uprising against his rule in 2011, leading to hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees dispersed mostly across neighboring countries with thousands also residing in Germany.

Another Russian ally, Iran, urged both Russia and Ukraine to show "restraint" as it blamed the US and NATO for the ratcheting up of tensions between the two sovereign states.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry statement called on both nations to "avoid any action that could aggravate tensions."

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh said, "We are following the issues related to this country with sensitivity."

Stocks in Moscow and Europe tumble as Ukraine's currency loses value

Russia's stock exchange fell almost 9% early Tuesday as it continued its nosedive on fears of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. For the fourth day in a row, Moscow stocks have tumbled and the leading index, MOEX, has lost more than a quarter of its value. 

Stock markets slide as Russia-Ukraine tension grows

Elsewhere, European stocks and equity markets plunged as oil and safe assets like gold rallied. Brent crude, already up 25% this year due to a surge in demand, rallied, approaching the $100 mark, the first time since 2014 that has occurred. Russia is heavily reliant on oil and gas and high energy prices can help it to fuel a war economy.

Qatar's minister of state for energy affairs, Saad al-Kaabi, addressed the crisis during a plenary session of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), saying the group of gas-producing countries would not support non-UN economic sanctions levied against any of its members. Russia is a member of the group.

The Ukrainian hryvnia lost 1% of its value.

UK holds emergency meeting, Johnson says Putin 'gravely miscalculated'

The UK held a national emergency security committee meeting early on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Putin will have "gravely miscalculated" if Russia opts for the full-scale invasion of Ukraine it seems prepared to launch and the UK will impose sanctions immediately.

After the meeting, Johnson told reporters, "I think that the tragedy of the present situation is that President Putin has surrounded himself with like-minded advisors who tell him that Ukraine is not a proper country."

Johnson said UK sanctions are "targeted not just at entities in Donbas and Luhansk and Donetsk, but in Russia itself — targeting Russian economic interests as hard as we can."

The UK also said Putin has recognized territory "beyond the line of control" as independent.

Parliaments of Ukraine's separatist regions ratify Russian friendship treaty

The self-proclaimed parliaments in the Russian-backed separatist regions of eastern Ukraine ratified the treaties of Russian friendship the Russian Duma rubber-stamped through, Russia's RBC reported. 

Several senior Russian legislators suggested Russia might opt to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in their original administrative borders, including the lands controlled by Ukraine currently.

West prepares sanctions against Putin

The US and European allies are set to announce new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday over Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to recognize the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR) and the "Luhansk People's Republic" (LPR) in eastern Ukraine as "independent."

The ambassadors of EU members states will also meet Tuesday in Brussels to discuss possible sanctions. The EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said sanctions would be imposed in the afternoon and called for an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Paris to discuss the ongoing crisis.

Non-EU member Norway said it would join the EU's sanctions regime against Russia.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Western nations "to impose tough sanctions against the Russian Federation," in a statement issued while he is in Washington.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order prohibiting business with the DPR and LPR.

UN Security Council convenes an emergency meeting over the crisis

The UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting late Monday where it condemned Russia for "violating international law."

The US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield attacked Russian claims that its troops were being deployed to eastern Ukraine on a "peacekeeping" mission as "nonsense."

"He calls them peacekeepers. This is nonsense. We know what they really are," Thomas-Greenfield said.

She added, "The consequences of Russia's actions will be dire, across Ukraine, Europe and the globe."

Ukraine's UN representative Sergiy Kyslytsya demanded Russia withdraw its decision to recognize the two breakaway republics. 

Kyslytsya said, "We are on our land and we are not afraid of anything or anyone."

By contrast, Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said Moscow was still "open to diplomacy," and claimed that Russia did not intend to allow "a new bloodbath in Donbas."

Putin orders troops into eastern Ukraine

On Monday evening, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree ordering Russian troops into eastern Ukraine.

Putin said Russian troops were being sent in to "maintain peace" in eastern Ukraine.

Earlier Monday, he recognized the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR) and the "Luhansk People's Republic" (LPR) in eastern Ukraine as "independent."

While the Russian-backed separatists claim the entirety of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, they only have control over a part of the territory they claim.

It was unclear whether Russian troops would be sent only to the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk already occupied by the proxy forces they have denied supporting or areas that are still controlled by Ukraine.

How did we get here? A century of Ukraine-Russia relations in brief

In brief, Ukraine, the largest country on the European continent, had a short-lived independent state following World War I. It was absorbed by the Soviet Union, which forced the terror of famine on the country in the 1930s under Stalin, known as the Holodomyr. Ukraine was a Soviet republic right up until the fall of the Soviet Union.

On August 24, 1991, it officially declared its independence. Russia recognized Ukraine's borders in a number of international agreements, including the Budapest Memorandum of 1994. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine politically began looking westwards and started talking with both the European Union and NATO.

In 2004, the first of two significant revolutions on Maidan Square took place, known as the "Orange revolution." That year, voters elected the pro-Western candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who had been poisoned leaving scars on his face, over the Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych. He took office in January 2005 and remained in office until 2010, when Yanukovych returned to power.

In 2013, Yanukovych, stopped the signing of an association agreement with the EU he had said he supported earlier. Protests ensued and the second Maidan revolution, Ukraine's Revolution for Dignity as it has become known, culminated in his security forces firing on demonstrators gathered on Maidan. Yanukovych fled to Rostov-on-Don in Russia by helicopter the next day taking with him briefcases of cash and documents but leaving the ostriches in his zoo behind.

In the spring of 2014, Russia then seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula by using "little green men" as Russian special forces Spetsnaz soldiers with their insignias covered became known. In a victory for the Kremlin's hybrid warfare techniques, the annexation of Crimea took place without bloodshed, unlike the bloody battles and heavy losses in the eastern part of the country that have been ongoing since 2014.

In eastern Ukraine, Russian-backed separatists are fighting for what they have called "people's republics " in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and more than 13,000 people have been killed so far, according to the UN.  An additional 1.4 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced by the conflict.

lo,fb, ar/rt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)