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Friday 31 March 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Alamy Stock Photo Ukrainian protesters near the embassy of the Russian Federation in Kyiv, Ukraine earlier this week.
# Ukraine
Timeline: Months of tension ahead of Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Here are some of the crucial moments from the last few months ahead of today’s invasion.

EARLIER THIS MORNING, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an attack on Ukraine. 

Explosions were reported in several Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, starting at approximately 5am local time (3am Irish time).

World leaders have condemned the attack on Ukraine, with Western capitals pledging new sanctions on Moscow and the UN chief demanding the conflict “stop now”. 

Let’s take a look back at a timeline of months of tensions around Ukraine – from Russia massing soldiers along the border in November to Putin’s announcement in the early hours of this morning.

Troop movements last year

On November 10, 2021, Washington reports unusual Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border.

On November 28, Ukraine says Russia is massing nearly 92,000 troops for an offensive at the end of January or early February.

Moscow denies this and accuses Kyiv of a military build-up of its own, demanding “legal guarantees” that it will never join NATO.

Moscow demands

On December 7, US President Joe Biden threatens Russian counterpart Putin with “strong economic and other measures” if he invades Ukraine.

10 days later, Moscow puts forward proposals to limit US and NATO influence on former Soviet states.

Build-up in Belarus in 2022

In the new year on January, Russian troops begin arriving in ex-Soviet Belarus for military drills, which Moscow says are aimed at “thwarting external aggression”.

Two days later, Washington announces an extra $200 million (€178 million) in security aid to Kyiv.

NATO on standby

On January 24, NATO puts troops on standby and sends ships and fighter jets to bolster Europe’s eastern defences.

The next day, Moscow begins military exercises involving some 6,000 troops and at least 60 fighter jets in southern Russia near Ukraine and in Moscow-annexed Crimea.

On January 26, Washington refuses to shut the NATO door on Ukraine and the alliance says many of Moscow’s security demands are “unrealistic”.

China warns US

The United States says it believes Putin “is going to use military force between now and the middle of February”.

The next day, China warns that Russia’s security concerns should be “taken seriously”.

On January 28, Putin says the West has ignored “Russia’s fundamental concerns” on NATO’s expansion and has “strike weapons systems near Russia’s borders”.

Manoeuvres in Belarus

On February 2, the United States sends 3,000 troops to fortify NATO forces in eastern Europe.

Russia and Belarus begin 10 days of military manoeuvres on February 10.

Russia had planned to hold naval exercises around 240km off the Irish coast around this time, but later agrees to relocate them outside Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone. 

On February 12, the Department of Foreign Affairs says all Irish citizens in Ukraine should “leave immediately by commercial means”. 

Retreat or reinforcement?

On February 15, Moscow says some of its forces are returning to their bases. But NATO sees no sign of a withdrawal and Washington claims Russia is in fact sending reinforcements.

Artillery fire

On February 17, shellfire intensifies all along the frontline of the two Russian-backed enclaves in eastern Ukraine.

A day later, the leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions say they are evacuating residents to Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accuses Moscow of “false provocations” to justify further “aggression” against Ukraine.

‘On the brink’

On February 19, Ukraine says two of its soldiers died in attacks on the frontline with Russian-backed separatists.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposes a meeting with Putin, as Moscow test-fires nuclear-capable missiles.

Russia is “on the brink” of invading Ukraine, Washington says.

Putin-Biden summit?

France and Germany call on their nationals to leave Ukraine.

On February 21, France says that Putin and Biden have agreed in principle to a summit.

But the White House is notably cautious and the Kremlin says it is too early.

The Russian military says it has killed five “saboteurs” who crossed into Russia from Ukraine. Ukraine denies the claims.

Putin recognises separatist republics

In a televised address on February 22, Putin recognises the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. The EU vows sanctions.

Putin orders Russian troops into separatist areas in eastern Ukraine on a “peacekeeping” mission.

Condemnation and sanctions 

Several hours later during an emergency Security Council session, the UN and most of its members denounce the Russian decisions.

Washington says it will slap new sanctions on Russia.

The EU will also adopt sanctions, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says.

Moscow says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is still ready for talks with Blinken, whom he is scheduled to meet in Geneva on Thursday.

Putin announces military operation 

Then earlier today, Putin announced what he described as a military operation in Ukraine in a surprise television address.

He called on Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms, claiming he wants a “demilitarisation” of the former Soviet state but not its occupation.

Explosions are heard soon after in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine. The country’s foreign minister has warned that a “full-scale invasion” is underway.

Putin made the announcement at around 3am Irish time just as the UN Security Council had convened for a special meeting to discuss the crisis.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on Ukrainians to stay at home and said he will seek a declaration of martial law in the country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has called the invasion a “murderous act of aggression”.

“Ireland is a neutral country, we’re militarily non-aligned, but we are certainly not neutral on an issue like this, when there is blatant aggression happening on the continent of Europe,” he said on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland. 

US President Biden accused Putin of choosing a “premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering”.

Russia faces “unprecedented isolation” over the attack and will be hit with the “harshest sanctions” the EU has ever imposed, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

“This is not a question of blocs. This is not a question of diplomatic power games. It’s a matter of life and death. It is about the future of our global community,” he said in a broadcast statement.

Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted this morning: “The world must act immediately. Future of Europe & the world is at stake.”

He called for “devastating sanctions” to be imposed on Russia.

UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Russia to end aggressions in Ukraine after Moscow announced a military operation against its neighbour.

“President Putin, in the name of humanity bring your troops back to Russia,” the secretary-general said after an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over the crisis.

“In the name of humanity do not allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of the century,” he said, adding the conflict “must stop now”.

Ukraine’s airspace has since been closed to civilian flights. Kyiv’s main international airport has come under a Russian bombing attack, Ukrainian defence officials said. 

The situation is evolving quickly and more details will emerge throughout today.

© AFP, 2022 and additional reporting by Orla Dwyer

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