Russia has confirmed the worst fear of Europe and launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine by land, air and sea. This is biggest attack on European soil by one state against another since World War II.
The attacks started after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised address that he had approved a “special military operation” on Thursday. Moscow’s justification being that earlier recognised rebel-held territories in Luhansk and Donetshad asked for its “help”.
Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities. Ukraine reported columns of troops pouring across its borders into the eastern Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Luhansk regions, and landing by sea at the cities of Odesa and Mariupol in the south.
Russian troops attacked Ukraine from Belarus as well as Russia with Belarusian support, and an attack was also being launched from annexed Crimea, Ukraine’s border guard service said.
Explosions could be heard before dawn in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Gunfire rattled out near the main airport and sirens blared across the city.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said martial law had been declared and he appealed to world leaders to impose all possible sanctions on Russia, including on Putin, who he said wanted to destroy the Ukrainian state.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter that Putin had “launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine”.
“Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes. 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,” he said.
Putin justified the attack as “a special military operation” to protect people, including Russian citizens who had been subjected to “genocide” in Ukraine.
“And for this, we will strive for the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine,” Putin said. “Russia cannot feel safe, develop, and exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of modern Ukraine.”
Russia’s defence ministry said it had taken out military infrastructure at Ukrainian airbases and degraded its air defences.
Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian flights citing a high risk to safety, while Russia suspended domestic flights at airports near its border with Ukraine until March 2.
Russian-backed separatists in the east said they had captured two towns, the RIA news agency reported.
United States President Joe Biden, in a phone call with Zelenskyy, condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces”, the White House said.
Biden said in a statement he briefed Zelenskyy on Washington and its allies’ planned next steps against Russia, including “severe sanctions”.
In an impassioned appeal, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres condemned Russia’s actions.
“In the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia,” he said. “In the name of humanity, do not allow a war to start in Europe which could be the worst war since the beginning of the century with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation but with an impact we cannot even foresee.”
NATO called an emergency meeting with chief Jens Stoltenberg condemning what he said was a “reckless attack”.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Russia faces “unprecedented isolation” over its attack on Ukraine and will be hit with the “harshest sanctions” the EU has ever imposed.
Justification for invasion
Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya and current president of the Security Council addressing the second emergency meeting this week, admitted to fellow members of the council that “special operations” were under way, insisting to the other ambassadors that the action did not amount to war and was a consequence of Ukraine’s actions.
“The aim of the operation is to protect the people who for eight years have been suffering “genocide of the Ukrainian regime”, he said, claiming the action was justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows for individual or collective self-defence in the face of an armed attack on a UN member state.
Putin demanded Ukrainian forces lay down their arms, and repeated his position that any Ukrainian membership of NATO was unacceptable to Moscow, according to state media.
In the UN council chamber, Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya appeared lost for words. “Three minutes ago, your president declared war on my country,” he told his Russian counterpart Nebenzya.
In a second round of comments, having effectively called for Russia’s expulsion from the UN, he concluded: “There’s no purgatory for war criminals, Mr Ambassador, they go to hell.”
The US said it was calling for an urgent resolution at the Security Council, and the call was backed by the United Kingdom, France and Ireland who noted Russia’s utter “disdain” for the UN by its military assault. The meeting is expected within 24 hours.