Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday approved a military operation in eastern Ukraine in what appeared to be the start of a war in Europe following Russia’s call for a halt to NATO’s expansion of the insurgency.
Shortly after Putin delivered a special televised address to Russian state television, explosions were heard in the quiet before dawn of the Ukrainian capital Kiev. Gunfire erupted near the capital’s main airport, Interfax news agency said.
The explosion also shook the separatist city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, and civilian planes were warned as the United States said a major Russian offensive against its neighbor was approaching.
Putin said he had approved a special military operation in secluded areas in eastern Ukraine and that fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces was only temporary.
Hours earlier, pro-Russian separatists had called on Moscow for help to end the alleged Ukrainian invasion – a claim that the United States denied was Russian propaganda.
Putin said he had ordered Russian forces to protect the men and called on Ukrainian forces to lay down their arms.
“All the responsibility for the bloodshed will be under the conscience of the leading government in Ukraine,” Putin said.
He reiterated his position that NATO’s expansion into Ukraine was unacceptable and said Russia had no choice but to defend itself against what he said were threats from Ukraine.
The extent of the Russian military operation was not immediately known. Moscow has long denied plans to invade despite gathering tens of thousands of troops near its neighbor.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Wednesday that Moscow had approved the attack and did not respond to an invitation for talks.
“Today I started a telephone conversation with the President of the Russian Federation. The results were silent,” he said.
US President Joe Biden said his prayers were with the people of Ukraine “in the face of unnecessary and baseless attacks by Russian military forces”.
“President Putin has chosen the intended war that will result in the greatest loss of life and human suffering. Russia is responsible for the death and destruction caused by this attack, and the United States and its allies and allies will respond. Unitedly and decisively. The world will hold Russia accountable.
He said he would announce new sanctions against Russia on Thursday, as well as financial measures imposed this week.
Russia’s operations began when the UN Security Council convened an emergency meeting on the Ukraine conflict in New York