Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a military operation in Ukraine, claiming it’s intended to protect civilians.
In a televised address, Putin said the action comes in response to threats coming from Ukraine. He added that Russia doesn’t have a goal to occupy Ukraine. Putin said the responsibility for the bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian “regime.”
Putin warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen.”
“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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. 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.
“The world will hold Russia accountable,” he said. “I will be monitoring the situation from the White House this evening and will continue to get regular updates from my national security team.”
Biden said that tomorrow, he will “meet with my G7 counterparts in the morning and then speak to the American people to announce the further consequences the United States and our Allies and partners will impose on Russia for this needless act of aggression against Ukraine and global peace and security.
We will also coordinate with our NATO Allies to ensure a strong, united response that deters any aggression against the Alliance. Tonight, Jill and I are praying for the brave and proud people of Ukraine.”
The Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine asked Russia for military assistance Wednesday to help fend off Ukrainian “aggression,” an announcement that immediately fueled fears that Moscow was offering up a pretext for war, just as the West had warned.
A short time later, the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and said a Russian invasion would cost tens of thousands of lives.
“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an emotional overnight address, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens.
“But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”
Zelinsky said he asked to arrange a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin late Wednesday, but the Kremlin did not respond.
In an apparent reference to Putin’s move to authorize the deployment of the Russian military to “maintain peace” in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky warned that “this step could mark the start of a big war on the European continent.”
“Any provocation, any spark could trigger a blaze that will destroy everything,” he said.
He challenged the Russian propaganda claims, saying that “you are told that this blaze will bring freedom to the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free.”
The United Nations Security Council quickly scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday night at Ukraine’s request. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the separatists’ request “a further escalation of the security situation.”
Anxiety about an imminent Russian offensive against its neighbor soared after Putin recognized the separatist regions’ independence on Monday, endorsed the deployment of troops to the rebel territories, and received parliamentary approval to use military force outside the country. The West responded with sanctions.
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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the rebel chiefs wrote to Putin on Wednesday, pleading with him to intervene after Ukrainian shelling caused civilian deaths and crippled vital infrastructure.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the separatists’ request for Russian help was an example of the sort of “false-flag” operation that the U.S. and its allies have expected Moscow to use as a pretense for war.
“So we’ll continue to call out what we see as false-flag operations or efforts to spread misinformation about what the actual status is on the ground,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Ukrainian lawmakers approved a decree that imposes a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days starting Thursday.
The measure allows authorities to declare curfews and other restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order.”
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The action reflected increasing concern among Ukrainian authorities after weeks of trying to project calm. The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended that any Ukrainians who are there leave immediately.