Hong Kong: Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to conduct a special military operation to “protect” the Donbas separatist region, the country’s news agency TASS reported.
In a nationally televised address early Thursday, Putin appealed to Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms and go home. He said Russia doesn’t plan to “occupy” its southern neighbor, but that Russia must “defend itself from those who took Ukraine hostage” — the U.S. and its allies who had crossed Russia’s “red line” with expansion of the NATO alliance.
Putin said Russia will “aim for demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.”
Minutes after Putin announced the move, explosions were visible near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, the New York Times reported.
It’s unclear at this early stage the size of the military operation and how far it might extend. The U.S. and its allies have for weeks warned of the potential for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, estimating Putin had massed 150,000 troops on the border.
World will hold Russia accountable: Biden
President Joe Biden called the move “an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces” and said the “world will hold Russia accountable.” Biden added that he would meet his Group of Seven counterparts Thursday and then speak to the American people to announce further punishments that would be placed on Moscow.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said in a statement. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.”
NATO condemns attack
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the developments were a ‘grave breach of international law’ and called on Russia to immediately ‘cease its military action’.
“I strongly condemn Russia’s reckless and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which puts at risk countless civilian lives. Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts to engage in diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country,” he said.
Stoltenberg added that NATO “will do all it takes to protect and defend all Allies”.
In a dramatic step, Kremlin earlier said that separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine appealed to Putin for help fighting Ukrainian forces.
The two self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk sought “help in repelling the military aggression of the Kyiv regime,” according to texts published by state-run Tass. They cited articles of the treaties Putin signed with the separatist leaders on Monday that include taking “all available measures” to counter threats to peace.
(with inputs from Bloomberg)