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Russia ‘ready to go now’: U.S. official warns Putin fully equipped to invade Ukraine

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba issued a sobering message Wednesday before the United Nations General Assembly.

“The beginning of a large-scale war in Ukraine will be the end of the world order as we know it,” he said.

The United States, Europe and other allies appeared to have lost hope in diplomatic efforts, canceling meetings with Russian officials and instead imposing the first salvo of sanctions on Moscow.

In an expected yet dramatic move, Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, according to The Associated Press, citing the Russian state news agency Tass. By Wednesday afternoon, Russia’s flag was no longer flying over the building, the report said. The departure came a day after Russia’s foreign ministry announced that it would evacuate all diplomatic missions in Ukraine to protect the lives of their personnel.

Late on Wednesday, Ukraine’s parliament imposed a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days starting on Thursday.

Ahead of the parliament’s vote on the state of emergency, at least five Ukrainian websites were hit by cyberattacks, according to Mykhailo Fedorov, minister of digital transformation. The websites for the Cabinet of Ministers and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were among those affected.

A bomb threat had also been called in to Ukraine’s parliament, the National Police of Kyiv confirmed, but authorities found no explosives.

The government urged all Ukrainian citizens to leave Russia “immediately” and has started conscripting reservists ages 18 to 60.

Recent estimates have put the number of Ukrainians living in Russia at 1.9 million to 3 million.

“We are aware of the risks that exist from the Russian Federation. We clearly understand that our army is ready to fight back,” Ukraine’s top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, told reporters after asking lawmakers to approve the state of emergency.

Ukraine’s parliament also gave initial approval to a draft law that would allow citizens to carry firearms in self-defense.

Feb. 23, 202202:29

The moves follow an escalation in the ongoing conflict in the country’s east and a highly provocative set of actions from Moscow.

On Tuesday, Putin said Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk stretched to large swaths of territory held by the Ukrainian military. The move further raised concerns that a broader armed conflict could break out as Russian troops move in and came after Putin gained parliamentary approval to use his armed forces abroad.

“Our country is always open for direct and honest dialogue, for the search for diplomatic solutions to the most complex problems,” Putin said Wednesday in a video statement released to coincide with the annual Defender of the Fatherland Day.

“But I repeat: The interests of Russia, the security of our citizens are unconditional for us,” he said.

A day earlier, Biden said Putin’s order of troops into eastern Ukraine, the area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, amounted to “the beginning of a Russian invasion.”

“We still believe that Russia is poised to go much further and launch a massive military attack against Ukraine,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — a further sign of the waning window for diplomacy.

U.S. allies — including the European Union, Canada, Germany, Britain, Australia and Japan — have all announced they have imposed or will impose sanctions against Russia.

Chief among their targets were Russian banks, though oligarchs, lawmakers and a key natural gas pipeline were also hit.

Although political opposition figures in Washington, London and elsewhere said the measures did not hit hard enough, Biden and his allies have made it clear that more measures will be imposed should Russian forces cross into Ukrainian-controlled territory.

“Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now,” was the message of Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign affairs minister, on Twitter on Wednesday.

The Russian foreign ministry, meanwhile, condemned the “counterproductive” U.S. sanctions as “blackmail, intimidation and threats,” warning “there will be a strong response” from Moscow.

CORRECTION (Feb. 23, 2022, 4:52 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the day when Ukraine’s state of emergency goes into effect. It begins Thursday, not Friday.

Anastasiia Parafeniuk, Reuters and Dareh Gregorian contributed.