Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine in a speech that appeared to serve as a declaration of war.
Russian troops have already begun to move into eastern Ukraine and large explosions were reported immediately after Putin’s speech, including near Kyiv.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that a “full-scale invasion” was now underway: “Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that military installations around the country were under attack, declared martial law, and said he’d spoken to President Biden. “Stay calm, stay at home, the army is doing its work,” he urged Ukrainians.
Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed to be attacking military targets and air bases but not population centres.
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Putin said the military operation would be intended to “demilitarize and de-nazify Ukraine,” but not to occupy it. That message appeared to be aimed not at the separatist republics where Putin has already deployed troops, but to the country as a whole and its leaders in Kyiv.
“To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: if you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me,” Putin said.
Putin called on Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms and claimed “all responsibility for possible bloodshed” would fall on the government in Kyiv.
Putin’s claims that Ukrainian forces somehow provoked the conflict come despite the fact that Russia has built up a force of over 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders over several months. He argued in an hour-long speech on Monday that Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent country.
President Biden quickly issued a statement saying, “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 promised Zelensky additional U.S. support in their call, per the White House readout. He also noted that he’d be meeting with the leaders of the G7 tomorrow and vowed: “our allies and partners will be imposing severe sanctions on Russia.”
Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss the alliance’s response to the attacks, the State Department said.
As Putin was speaking, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield was addressing an emergency session of the UN Security Council. In a bizarre split-screen, several countries then made urgent appeals to prevent a war that Putin had already declared. China’s representative did not criticize Russia.
Zelensky made an address of his own on Wednesday night, speaking to the Russian people directly to plead for peace but warning that if Russia attacks, “you will see our faces, not our backs.”
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