WASHINGTON -- World leaders on Thursday (February 24) swiftly condemned Russia's military attack on Ukraine, vowing to punish Moscow politically and economically for its illegal war of aggression.
Russian troops invaded Ukraine on various fronts Thursday, starting the biggest war in Europe since 1945.
In a statement issued shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of military operations in Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said he would soon outline the "consequences" for Russia.
"The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight as they suffer an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces," Biden said.
"Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering," he said. "Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring."
"The world will hold Russia accountable," he declared.
Biden also spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy soon after explosions were heard in multiple parts of the country.
"We will continue to provide support and assistance to Ukraine and the Ukrainian people," Biden said in a statement after the call.
"Russia has attacked Ukraine in a cowardly and suicidal way, like Nazi Germany did during World War II," Zelenskyy said in an online briefing.
The leaders of the G7 -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States -- held a virtual, closed-door meeting Thursday to discuss the consequences they will impose on Russia for its "needless act of aggression against Ukraine and global peace and security", Biden's statement said.
The US secretaries of State and Defence also spoke with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg to condemn the "unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine", the State Department said.
NATO will hold a virtual summit Friday on Russia's invasion, diplomats told AFP, as the alliance announced after an emergency meeting that "additional steps" were being taken to protect member countries.
Condemning 'war criminals'
United Nations (UN) chief António Guterres made a direct and personal plea to Putin after an emergency UN Security Council session, urging him to stop the attack "in the name of humanity".
"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.
"The conflict must stop now."
Russia has "chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country", Stoltenberg said, describing the invasion as a "grave breach of international law".
During the charged emergency meeting Wednesday, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN Sergiy Kyslytsya demanded that Russia's ambassador relinquish his duties as chair of the council.
"There is no purgatory for war criminals. They go straight to hell, ambassador," the visibly emotional Kyslytsya said.
"President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted. "The UK and our allies will respond decisively."
"These reckless and dangerous acts will not go unpunished," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
'Countless lives torn apart'
European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Russia faced "unprecedented isolation" and would be hit with the "harshest sanctions" the EU has ever imposed.
"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 these dark hours, our thoughts are with Ukraine and the innocent women, men and children as they face this unprovoked attack and fear for their lives," EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel tweeted. "We will hold the Kremlin accountable."
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Felippo Grandi warned that Russia's invasion of Ukraine would have "devastating" humanitarian consequences and urged neighbouring countries to keep borders open to those fleeing the violence.
"The humanitarian consequences on civilian populations will be devastating. There are no winners in war but countless lives will be torn apart," he said in a statement.
World 'will not forget'
Leaders from around the world denounced the Russian invasion.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz lashed out at Putin's "unscrupulous act" and spoke to Zelenskyy to express his country's "full solidarity".
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned the world "will not forget this day of shame".
"This attack will have severe political and economic consequences for Russia," German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck said.
"Russia must immediately put an end to its military operations," French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter.
"The latest Russian invasion shakes the foundation of the international order, which does not permit unilateral attempts to change the status quo," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after a meeting of his national security council.
"Greece unequivocally condemns revisionist acts," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis Thursday said at the start of an emergency meeting with military and energy staff.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged Putin to "put an immediate end to the bloodshed and to unconditionally withdraw his military forces".
"Now is the time" to apply "a very tough package of sanctions against Russia", he said.
"This attack on Ukraine puts the lives of millions of people at grave risk and is a gross breach of international law and Russia's commitments," the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), of which Russia is a member, said.