Moscow/Kiev/New York, Feb 24 (EFE).- Russia’s president Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a “military operation” in eastern Ukraine, followed by Kiev officials declaring soon after that “a full-scale invasion” by Moscow had begun.
“I have taken the decision to carry out a special military operation,” Putin said in a televised address at about 5am Ukrainian time.
“Its goal will be to defend people who for eight years have been suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime. For this we will aim for demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, as well as taking to court those who carried out multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation. Our plans do not include occupying Ukrainian territory.”
Putin also addressed the Ukrainian military and asked them to immediately lay down their arms and return to their homes.
“All service members of the Ukrainian army who follow these demands will be able to leave the battle zone,” he said.
He also had a warning for the West: “Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history.”
Soon after the Russian president’s speech, Ukraine officials announced an invasion.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “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.”
Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko also confirmed an “invasion has begun.”
“There have just been missiles on the military headquarters, airports, military warehouses, near Kiev, Kharkov, Dnieper. Gunfire at the border is underway. A new geopolitical reality in the world from today,” he wrote on Facebook.
Explosions were reported across the country in Kiev, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Dnipro, Odesa, Slavayansk and Kramatorsk.
In the capital, the evacuation of airport personnel and travelers was underway, the Ministry of Infrastructure said, according to Interfax Ukraine.
Putin’s address coincided with an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council where, in extraordinary remarks just moments before the attack, UN Secretary General António Guterres appealed directly to Russia’s leader.
“I have only one thing to say from the bottom of my heart: President Putin, stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died,” Guterres said.
Later, after the invasion, he implored Putin: “In the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia.”
The emergency meeting had been convened at the request of Ukraine, backed by several member states of the body.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russia’s “reckless attack.”
“This is a grave breach of international law & a serious threat to Euro-Atlantic security. NATO Allies will meet to address Russia’s renewed aggression,” he wrote on Twitter.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement that “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 he will meet with G7 leaders in the morning before announcing “further consequences” for Russia and a “strong, united response” from Nato allies.