Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with missile strikes on major cities and military convoys crossing the border.
In a televised address, Putin claimed that Moscow’s response would be “instant” if anyone tried to take on Russia. Ukraine’s foreign minister has accused Russia of starting a full-scale war and called on the UK to do “everything possible” to stop it.
Russian troops launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions and warned other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen”.
Big explosions were heard before dawn in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa as world leaders decried the start of an invasion that could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and threaten the post-Cold War balance on the continent.
Ukrainians started fleeing some cities, and the Russian military claimed to have incapacitated all of Ukraine’s air defences and air bases within hours.
The chilling televised announcement was aired at around 5am in Russia.
“I have decided to conduct a special military operation,” said Putin, seated at a desk in the Kremlin next to a battery of telephones, with the Russian flag behind him.
“Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide… for the last eight years. And for this we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.
“And to bring to court those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.”
“I urge you to immediately lay down your weapons and go home. All servicemen of the Ukrainian army who fulfil this demand will be able to freely leave the combat zone and return to their families,”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine declared martial law, saying Russia has targeted Ukraine’s military infrastructure. Ukrainians who had long braced for the prospect of an assault, while never knowing precisely when it would come, were urged to stay home and not to panic even as the country’s border guard agency reported an artillery barrage by Russian troops from neighbouring Belarus.
US President Joe Biden pledged new sanctions to punish Russia for the aggression that the international community had expected for weeks but could not prevent through diplomacy.
Mr Putin justified it all in a televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the US had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said has promised to arm all civilians: “We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.
“We will lift sanctions on all citizens of Ukraine who are ready to defend our country as part of territorial defence with weapons in hands.
“We have severed diplomatic relations with Russia. For all those who have not yet lost their conscience in Russia, it is time to go out and protest against the war with Ukraine.”
Boris Johnson will make an address to the nation this morning on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and will address MPs this afternoon.
Boris Johnson’s Commons statement will be at 5pm after a TV address this morning.
What is the cause of the tension in the region?
The current difficulties date back to the overthrow in 2014 of the pro-Moscow Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovych, prompting fears in the Kremlin that the country was moving into the orbit of the West. You can read more about the key issues here.
President Vladimir Putin responded by sending in troops to annex Crimea while Russian-backed separatist rebels seized territory in eastern Ukraine in bloody fighting with the Ukrainian military.
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