A broad offensive by Russian forces targeted military infrastructure across Ukraine as well as several airports. The assault began hours before dawn and quickly spread across central and eastern Ukraine as Russian forces attacked from three sides. Ukrainian officials said more than 40 soldiers and as many as 10 civilians had been killed, and the deputy interior minister reported "fierce fighting" at an airbase near the Ukrainian capital.
The Moscow stock exchange had suspended trading earlier on Thursday but when dealing resumed, stocks went into free-fall.
The MOEX index plunged as much as 45% before recovering slightly to close down 33%, while the RTS index — which is denominated in dollars — ended the day with losses of 39%. The crash wiped about $70 billion off the value of Russia's biggest companies.
Russian banks and oil companies were among the hardest hit in volatile trading, with shares in Sberbank ( — Russia's largest lender — losing 43% of their value. Rosneft, in which )BP ( owns a 19.75% stake, also shed 43%. BP shares dropped 4.6% in London. )Gazprom (, the giant gas company behind the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, was down 35%. )
Russia's central bank said in a statement that it had instructed brokers to suspend short sales "given the current situation in the financial market and to protect the rights and legitimate interests of investors." That means they can no longer borrow securities to sell in anticipation of buying them back at a lower price. The order took effect at 11:00 a.m. local time.
The ruble was trading at nearly 88 to the dollar, down 8%, after earlier hitting a new record low of 89.60. The Russian central bank said it would intervene in the currency market and provide extra liquidity to the banking sector.
"This emotional reaction was inevitable, but at the same time it will stabilize," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said about the market turmoil in a call with foreign journalists. "All the necessary measures have been taken for this," he added.
The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and other allies announced limited new sanctions on Russia earlier this week after Moscow said it would send troops into two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine. Germany said it was suspending certification of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
US, EU and UK officials have made clear that much tougher measures would follow should Russia invade.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Thursday the European Union is set to unleash "the full packet of sanctions" against Russia, adding that the world must respond resolutely or run the risk of paying an even higher price.
"We woke up in a different world today," Baerbock told reporters at a news conference in Berlin, adding "we will launch the full package of massive sanctions against Russia."
The Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia called for Russia to be ejected from SWIFT, the secure messaging services that facilitates payments among 11,000 financial institutions in 200 countries.
"The entire international community must firmly condemn Russia's aggression and impose the toughest possible sanctions in response to such outrageous acts, including disconnecting Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)," the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a joint statement.
In a statement, SWIFT said it was "a neutral global cooperative" and "any decision to impose sanctions on countries or individual entities rests solely with the competent government bodies and applicable legislators."
Excluding Russia from SWIFT would cause its economy to shrink by 5%, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin estimated in 2014 — the last time this sanction was considered in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea
Sberbank said it was prepared for any developments and had worked through scenarios to guarantee its customers' funds, assets and interests were protected, Reuters reported.
— Charles Riley contributed reporting.