Russian forces attacked targets across Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin ordered an operation to demilitarise the country, in what Ukraine’s foreign minister called a “full-scale invasion.”
Putin appealed to Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms and go home in a nationally televised address ahead of the offensive. He said Russia doesn’t plan to “occupy” its southern neighbour, but that Russia must “defend itself from those who took Ukraine hostage,” accusing the US and its allies of crossing Russia’s “red line” by expanding the NATO alliance.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy imposed martial law across the country, as his government warned Russian forces were attacking cities and urged citizens to hide in shelters to avoid missile attacks on Kyiv. He said he spoke with President Joe Biden, telling the nation “the US has started to prepare international support.”
“Russia attacked our military infrastructure and our border guarders,” Zelenskiy said in a video address on telegram channel. He urged people to stay calm and stay at home if possible. “We are working. The army is working.”
Russia’s defense minister said the strikes were targeting Ukrainian military infrastructure and didn’t pose a threat to the population, state-run TASS reported.
Biden called Putin’s 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 tumbled Thursday while bonds jumped and oil soared as Putin’s decision cast a pall over global markets. S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 equity contracts slid about 2%, signaling the latter, tech-heavy gauge is on course for a bear market. European futures shed some 3% and an Asia-Pacific equity gauge fell to the lowest since 2020.
Crude surged on possible risks to Russian energy exports, with Brent touching $100 a barrel. The flight to safer investments saw the US 10-year Treasury yield fall to 1.90%. Gold hit the highest since early 2021. The dollar and yen jumped, while the euro and the ruble retreated.
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.
“This is a war of aggression,” Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet. “Ukraine will defend itself and will win.”
In his address, Putin said the aim was to “protect people who for eight years have been suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime.”
‘Demilitarisation and Denazification’
“For this we will aim for demilitarisation and denazification of Ukraine, as well as bringing to justice those who carried out multiple bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation,” he said. “Our plans do not include occupying Ukrainian territory.”
Putin’s move came even as members of the United Nations Security Council urged Putin not to escalate, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres making a rare direct plea to Putin.
“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.”
While NATO leaders have said that Russia has no veto over the bloc’s membership, the alliance has long been divided over admitting the country. The Biden administration has repeatedly ruled out sending US or NATO armed forces into Ukraine, instead bolstering NATO allies elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
It also wasn’t clear what Putin was protecting separatist forces from, since Ukraine’s military had not moved against their positions.
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 leader 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 U.S. 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.