Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled the start of a military operation in Ukraine early Thursday morning local time, announcing that Russian troops would enter Ukraine’s Donbas region. The territory is held by Russian-backed separatists, and Putin declared it independent of Ukraine earlier this week.
“I have decided to conduct a special military operation,” Putin said in a speech broadcast on Russian television. “Russia cannot exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of Ukraine.”
Experts described the move, which was reported by the Russian state news agency Tass, as a de facto declaration of war. “Putin has declared war on Ukraine,” tweeted Alexander Vindman, a retired United States Army lieutenant colonel who was the director for European affairs on the National Security Council under President Donald Trump. “The objective is to demilitarize and pacify Ukraine. This is basically the worst case scenario … Putin wants to destroy Ukraine’s armed forces and install a puppet regime.”
Russian-speaking journalists echoed Vindman’s assessment. “Putin said that he will ‘denazify and demilitarize Ukraine’ and bring those responsible for ‘war crimes’ to trial,” tweeted Julia Ioffe of Puck News. “Not the Donbas, Ukraine. All of it.”
CNN immediately reported that its “team on the ground is hearing several loud explosions near Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.” The New York Times posted video of explosions visible near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry reportedly confirmed that Kyiv is under aerial attack.
President Biden released a statement condemning the “unprovoked and unjustified attack.”
On Tuesday, Putin deployed troops to the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, having previously surrounded the country with more than 150,000 troops on its borders. That same day, the United States and its European allies imposed economic sanctions on Russia in response.
“Tomorrow, I will meet with my G-7 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,” Biden said in his statement on Putin’s latest move, late Wednesday night in Washington. “We will also coordinate with our NATO Allies to ensure a strong, united response that deters any aggression against the Alliance.”
At the same time that Putin made his announcement, the United Nations Security Council was holding an emergency meeting at Ukraine’s request at which member states criticized Russia for creating the conflict. At that meeting, representatives of numerous countries condemned Russia’s invasion. “We urge Russia to cease its military operation and withdraw its troops,” said Germany’s U.N. ambassador, Antje Leendertse.
Just hours earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had asked to arrange a call with Putin late Wednesday but that the Kremlin didn’t respond.
In an impassioned plea directly to the Russian people, Zelensky said: “The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace. 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.”
According to the Washington Post, “state-controlled Russian newscasts have depicted Ukraine as a nation run by Nazis threatening Moscow.”
“The Ukraine on your news and Ukraine in real life are two completely different countries — and the main difference is ours is real,” Zelensky, who is Jewish, said. “You are told that we are Nazis. How could a people that lost more than 8 million people in the fight against Nazism support Nazism? How could I be a Nazi?”