Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine on Thursday with explosions heard soon after across the country and its foreign minister warning a “full-scale invasion” was underway.
Weeks of intense diplomacy and the imposition of Western sanctions on Russia failed to deter Putin, who had massed between 150,000 and 200,000 troops along the borders of Ukraine.
“I have made the decision of a military operation,” Putin said in a surprise television announcement that triggered immediate condemnation from US President Joe Biden and sent global financial markets into turmoil.
Shortly after the announcement, explosions were heard in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and several other cities, according to AFP correspondents.
Putin called on Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms, and justified the operation by claiming the government was overseeing a “genocide” in the east of the country.
The Kremlin had earlier said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine had asked Moscow for military help against Kyiv.
The extent of Thursday’s attacks was not immediately clear, but Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the worst-case scenario was playing out.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Kuleba tweeted.
“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.”
Biden immediately warned of “consequences” for Russia and that there would be a “catastrophic loss of life and human suffering”.
NATO’s chief condemned Russia’s “reckless and unprovoked attack” on Ukraine.