Russia on Wednesday night launched a full-scale air and ground assault on Ukraine after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an operation aimed at overthrowing the country’s government, The New York Times reports.
Putin on Wednesday announced a “special military operation” after recognizing two separatist regions in Ukraine as independent.
Putin claimed that the expansion of NATO posed a security threat to Russia and accused the west of aggression. He said he was launching the operation to protect the people in the separatist regions.
“Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to abuse and genocide by the regime in Kyiv for eight years,” he said. “And for this we will pursue the demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing to justice those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation.”
Within minutes Russian forces fired missiles on numerous cities in Ukraine, including the capital of Kyiv. Russia claimed it was only targeting military installations but images posted to social media showed Russian missiles also hitting civilian areas.
Ukrainian officials said at least 68 soldiers and civilians have been killed.
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kubela said that Ukraine was facing a “full-scale attack from multiple directions” but that it “continues to defend itself.”
Russia invaded from its own borders, as well as from Crimea and from Belarus, whose troops joined the assault.
Ukrainian forces said they shot down multiple Russian aircraft and repelled Russian troops in two cities close to Russia and Belarus.
But in other cities, Russian troops bombarded military installations and took over airports.
The Russian Defense Ministry said it had destroyed more than 70 military targets, including 11 airfields and three command points.
President Joe Biden and other western leaders vowed to impose severe sanctions in response to the attack.
“President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering,” he said in a statement “The world will hold Russia accountable.”
The European Commission called the attack “barbaric” and said it threatens “the stability in Europe and the whole of the international peace order.”
The EU scheduled an emergency meeting in Brussels.
But it’s unclear how far sanctions will go. Some countries have pushed back on calls to sanction Russia’s energy sector and kick them out of the SWIFT international banking system because those moves could also be painful for European countries reliant on Russian gas and cash.