Vladimir Putin said he’s ordered a “special military operation” to protect the people of the Donbas separatist region, but said Russia will “aim for demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine.”
In a nationally televised address early Thursday, Putin appealed to Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms and go home. He said Russia doesn’t plan to “occupy” its southern neighbour, but that Russia must “defend itself from those who took Ukraine hostage” -- the US and its allies who had crossed Russia’s “red line” with expansion of the NATO alliance.
It’s unclear at this early stage the size of the military operation and how far it might extend. The US and its allies have for weeks warned of the potential for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, estimating Putin had massed 150,000 troops on the border.
President Joe Biden called the move “an unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces” and said the “world will hold Russia accountable”. Biden added that he would meet his Group of Seven counterparts Thursday and then speak to the American people to announce further punishments that would be placed on Moscow.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” Biden said in a statement. “Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring, and the United States and its Allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way.”
US equity futures and stocks slid on the back of the Putin’s escalation. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 contracts tumbled more than 1%, European futures shed over 2% and an Asia-Pacific equity gauge fell to the lowest level this month.
The move came even members of the United Nations Security Council urged Putin not to escalate, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres making made a rare direct plea to Putin.
‘Give peace a chance’
“I have only one thing to say, from the bottom of my heart: President Putin, stop your troops from attacking the Ukraine,” Guterres said. “Give peace a chance. Too many people have already died.”
The Kremlin said Wednesday that separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine had appealed to Putin for help fighting Ukrainian forces. The two self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk sought help under treaties Putin signed with their leaders Monday.
Earlier, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an address to the nation that any Russian move to aid separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine could cause an escalation in tensions.
Ukraine poses no threat to Russia but will defend itself if attacked, Zelenskiy said in his speech. He said Putin didn’t respond to a request to talk by phone on Wednesday.
Russia has repeatedly rejected US allegations that Putin intends to invade Ukraine as “hysteria” and propaganda.
The Donetsk and Luhansk separatists held about 30% of the territory of the two Ukrainian regions as of Wednesday, with the rest under the control of government forces.