It shocked the whole world that the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, announced that he had given orders to execute a special military operation in Ukraine on Thursday early morning. According to his televised live address, Moscow can no longer tolerate the threats coming from Ukraine, and the military operation will aim to protect human lives. At the same time, he warned that Russia would respond immediately in a way historically never seen before to any attempt from abroad to interfere in the Russian operation. Putin stated: ‘We all know that having justice and truth on our side makes us truly strong.’[i]
Not long after the statement, the Operational Command of the Ukrainian Army claimed that air and ballistic attacks on airports and military headquarters in Kyiv and other major cities were being reported. An essential link between the Donbas and Crimea, the port city of Mariupol on the shores of the Sea of Azov, also came under attack not long after the Russian President’s speech. The Ministry of Interior Affairs of Ukraine, which had been communicating primarily via Facebook,[ii] announced that Russian troops had landed in Odesa and were crossing the border in Kharkiv. The first airstrikes focused mainly on military infrastructure; however, severe damage was also caused to numerous residential buildings. There have been reports of both civilian and non-civilian casualties as well. According to the New York Times, at a United Nations Security Council meeting, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said the military operation ‘aims to protect the people who have been suffering from genocide.’[iii] Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Jens Stoltenberg called on Russia[iv] to immediately end the military operation in Ukraine and respect her sovereignty and territorial integrity.
All members of the Visegrad Group have condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine
All members of the Visegrad Group have condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine. At a joint press conference,[v] held by the President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Čaputová, the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic Eduard Heger, and the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic Ivan Korčok, the three public dignitaries jointly voiced their shock at the Russian aggression on Ukraine. The Slovak President underscored that ‘Russia today started a war in Ukraine. She attacked the weaker, whose only fault is that she wanted to live peacefully according to her ideas like other sovereign nations.’ PM Eduard Heger called Russia’s move an ‘unjustifiable barbaric act’. According to the Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, ‘Russia is grossly violating international law and the principles of the UN Charter. This action is a threat to European security.’ He added that Slovakia would ask the Alliance for an Article 4 consultation at the extraordinary NATO meeting.[vi]
The notoriously pro-Russian President of the Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman, also condemned the Russian military operation calling it a ‘crime against peace’ and saying that the Russian leader ‘must be stopped.’ According to The Prime Minister of Czechia Petr Fiala, an incursion by Russian forces into the territory of Ukraine cannot be described otherwise but as an act of aggression against a sovereign state. ‘I clearly condemn the steps taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin. They must be met with an answer.’[vii]
Like his colleagues, the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, condemned ‘the unprovoked and unjustified Russian attack on Ukraine.’ In his tweet, he wrote, ‘Despite the efforts of the international community, Ukraine has fallen victim to a brutal, unprovoked and unjustified Russian attack.’[viii] The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki delivered a speech at the Sejm, the lower parliament house, saying ‘Today is an absolutely unique moment in our history because this morning changed everything… It has caused the demons that we had already forgotten –the demons of World War II, wars– to be reborn again. Assault, aggression have become a fact. People are dying just beyond our eastern border.’ He also added ‘One European country has attacked another one for no reason. This barbarity must be met with a firm response of the entire free world.’[ix]
‘Hungary stands for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty’
The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who has excellent personal relations with the Russian President, also condemned the Russian move and at the same time made it clear that deploying Hungarian soldiers or military equipment to Ukraine was out of the question. Humanitarian aid, however, will be provided. ‘Hungary stands for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Péter Szijjártó said on Thursday morning. He added that ‘the government’s most important task is to guarantee the security of the Hungarian people.’ It must be noted that Hungary’s situation regarding the Ukraine crisis is unique, as the number of ethnic Hungarians living in the Western part of Ukraine exceeds one hundred thousand, with most having dual, Ukrainian-Hungarian citizenship. According to press reports, the fighting is continually intensifying. The panic is well reflected in the situation at the border crossings of Ukraine, where traffic has dramatically increased over the last 24 hours. Although there were no disruptions in border crossing yesterday, men aged between 18 and 60 will no longer be allowed to leave Ukraine as of today.
[iii] Farnaz Fassihi, ‘The U.N. Security Council met to prevent military action by Putin. Russia invaded Ukraine as they spoke,’ Nytimes,com, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/24/world/europe/un-security-council-russia-ukraine.html, accessed 25 Feb. 2022.
[iv] NATO, ‘NATO Secretary General statement on Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine,’ Nato.int, 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_192401.htm, accessed 25 Feb. 2022.
[vi] Lukáš Onderčanin,Veronika Orviská, ‘Vojna na Ukrajine: Zelenskyj podpísal dekrét o všeobecnej mobilizácii (minúta po minute),’ Svet.sme.sk, 2022, https://svet.sme.sk/c/22840428/ukrajina-rusko-konflikt-minuta-po-minute-24-2-2022.html?ref=st-bno-1#nato, accessed 25 Feb. 2022.
[vii] Radio Prague International, ‘ “An act of barbaric aggression”, Czech leaders condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine, prepare response,’ English.radio.cz, 2022, https://english.radio.cz/act-barbaric-aggression-czech-leaders-condemn-russian-invasion-ukraine-prepare-8742957, accessed 25 Feb. 2022.
[viii] Radio Poland, ‘Unprovoked and unjustified Russian attack’ on Ukraine: Polish president,’ Polskieradio.pl, 2022, https://www.polskieradio.pl/395/7784/Artykul/2907880,Unprovoked-and-unjustified-Russian-attack-on-Ukraine-Polish-president, accessed 25 Feb.2022.
[ix] The First News, ‘Poland a fully safe country, says PM,’ Thefirstnews.com, 2022, https://www.thefirstnews.com/article/poland-a-fully-safe-country-says-pm-28125, accessed 25 Feb. 2022.