Putin announces military operation in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine on Thursday, saying it was meant to protect civilians.

In a televised address, Putin said the action came in response to threats from Ukraine. He added that Russia did not aim 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 Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen”.

He accused the United States and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and to offer security guarantees to Moscow. He said that the Russian military operation aims to ensure a “demilitarization” of Ukraine.

Putin said that all Ukrainian servicemen who lay down their arms will be able to leave the combat zone safely.

There was no immediate reaction from the White House to Putin’s remarks, but US officials have repeatedly pledged to impose crushing sanctions on the Russian economy and Putin’s allies in retaliation for another invasion. from Ukraine.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday asked Russia for military assistance to help repel Ukrainian “aggression,” an announcement that immediately fueled fears that Moscow offered a pretext for war, just as the West had done. warned.

Shortly after, Ukraine’s president dismissed Moscow’s claims that his country posed a threat to Russia and said a Russian invasion would cost tens of thousands of lives.

“The Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government want peace,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a moving speech overnight, speaking in Russian in a direct appeal to Russian citizens. “But if we are attacked, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you’ll see our faces, not our backs.

Zelenskyy said he asked to arrange a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday evening, but the Kremlin did not respond.

In an apparent reference to Putin’s decision to allow the deployment of the Russian military to “keep the peace” in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky warned that “this step could mark the start of a great war. on the European continent”.

“Any provocation, any spark could ignite a fire that will destroy everything,” he said.

He disputed Russian propaganda claims, saying that “you are told that this fire will bring freedom to the Ukrainian people, but the Ukrainian people are free”.

The United Nations Security Council quickly scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday evening at Ukraine’s request. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the separatists’ demand “a further escalation of the security situation”.

Concern over an impending Russian offensive against its neighbor skyrocketed after Putin on Monday recognized the independence of breakaway regions, approved the deployment of troops to rebel territories and received parliamentary approval to use military force. outside the country. The West responded with sanctions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said rebel leaders wrote to Putin on Wednesday, pleading with him to intervene after Ukrainian shelling killed civilians and crippled vital infrastructure.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the separatists’ request for help from Russia was an example of the type of “false flag” operation that the United States and its allies are pursuing. are waiting for Moscow to use as a pretext for war.

“We will therefore continue to expose what we consider to be false flag operations or efforts to spread false information about the real situation 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 movement restrictions, block gatherings and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order”.

This action reflects the growing concern of the Ukrainian authorities after weeks of trying to project calm. The Foreign Ministry advised against traveling to Russia and advised all Ukrainians there to leave immediately.

“For a long time we refrained from declaring a state of emergency… but today the situation has become more complicated,” the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Security Council told parliament. defence, Oleksiy Danilov, stressing that Moscow’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine posed the main threat. .

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Russian force of more than 150,000 troops deployed along Ukraine’s borders was in an advanced state of readiness. “They’re ready to go now,” Kirby said.

The latest images released by satellite imagery firm Maxar showed Russian troops and military equipment deployed within 10 miles of the Ukrainian border and within 50 miles of Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

Early Thursday, airspace across Ukraine was closed to civilian air traffic, according to a notice to airmen. A commercial flight tracking website showed that an Israeli El Al Boeing 787 flying from Tel Aviv to Toronto abruptly left Ukrainian airspace before detouring over Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. The only other plane tracked over Ukraine was a US RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned surveillance plane, which began flying west early Thursday after Russia implemented flight restrictions on Ukrainian territory.

Another wave of distributed denial of service attacks hit Ukraine’s parliament and other government and banking websites on Wednesday, and cybersecurity researchers said unidentified attackers also infected hundreds of computers with malware. destructive malware.

Officials have long said they expect cyberattacks to precede and accompany any Russian military incursion, and analysts said the incidents were linked to a nearly two-decade-old Russian playbook on cyber -marriage operations with real-world aggression.

In other developments, Russia evacuated its embassy in Kyiv; Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered severing all diplomatic ties with Moscow, and dozens of countries further ousted Russian oligarchs and banks from international markets.

President Joe Biden has authorized sanctions to go forward against the company that built the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and against the company’s CEO.

“As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further action if Russia continues to escalate,” Biden said in a statement.

Germany said on Tuesday it was suspending the project indefinitely, after Biden accused Putin of initiating “the start of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” by sending troops into breakaway regions. The pipeline is complete but has not yet started working.

Putin said on Tuesday he had not yet sent Russian troops to rebel areas, contrary to Western claims, and Donetsk rebel leader Denis Pushilin insisted on Wednesday that there were no Russian troops in the area, although a member of the local council claimed the day before that they had moved in.

Already, the threat of war has shredded Ukraine’s economy and raised the specter of massive losses, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.

European Union sanctions against Russia have gone into effect, targeting several companies as well as 351 Russian lawmakers who voted for a motion urging Putin to recognize rebel regions and 27 senior government officials, business leaders and senior military officers. the army.

The Russian Foreign Ministry ignored the sanctions, saying “Russia has proven that with all the costs of the sanctions it is able to minimize the damage.”

In eastern Ukraine, a Ukrainian soldier was killed and six others injured after rebel shelling, the Ukrainian army announced on Wednesday. Separatist officials reported several explosions in their territory overnight and three civilian deaths.

Facing a barrage of criticism at the 193-member UN General Assembly, Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia warned Ukraine that Russia would monitor a ceasefire in is and stressed that “nobody intends to take it easy, easy on the offenders”. .”

“A new military adventure” by Kiev “could cost the whole of Ukraine very dearly,” he warned.

After weeks of mounting tensions, Putin’s actions this week have raised the stakes dramatically. He has recognized the independence of the breakaway regions, a move he says extends even to large parts of the territories now held by Ukrainian forces, and has asked parliament to grant him the power to use military force to outside the country.

Putin laid down three conditions he said could end the standoff, urging Kyiv to drop its NATO bid, partially demilitarize and recognize Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Sea Peninsula Black which Moscow annexed to Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine has long rejected such demands.

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