(CNSNews.com) – Russian President Vladimir Putin early Thursday morning announced the beginning of a “special military operation” in Ukraine, and explosions were heard in Kyiv and other cities as a war long feared and predicted by Western governments appeared to be underway.
President Biden denounced the “unprovoked and unjustified attack” and pledged that the U.S. and its allies and partners “will respond in a united and decisive way.”
“The world will hold Russia accountable,” he said in a statement.
In a televised speech, Putin said the operation’s goal was “to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide by the Kyiv regime for eight years.”
In what appeared to be a threat to topple the democratically-elected government of President Volodymyr Zelensky, he vowed to “strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine” and to bring to justice those who he claimed that committed bloody crimes against civilians, including Russian citizens.
Putin called on Ukrainian soldiers to “lay down your arms and go home.”
He also warned that “whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so to create threats for our country, and even more so for our people, should know that Russia's response will be immediate.”
Ukraine’s state news agency reported that missiles had hit military facilities in Kyiv, the country’s second-largest city Kharkiv near the Russian border in the northeast, and the central city of Dnipro.
It said Russian forces have crossed the border near Kharkiv and landed on the coast in Odessa.
Ukraine’s border agency posted a video clip showing Russian military vehicles rolling out of Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia since 2014.
It also reported that Russian forces were entering the country from Belarus, its northern neighbor. Recent Russian-Belarusian joint military “exercises” paved the way for such an action.
“The invasion has begun,” Anton Herashchenko, advisor to Ukraine’s internal affairs ministry, wrote on his Facebook page. “Either Ukraine and the world will stop the new Hitler now or there will be a Third World War.”
Russian media cited the defense ministry as saying Russian forces have used “high-precision weapons” to disable Ukrainian military infrastructure, air defense facilities, military airfields and aircraft. It claimed civilian areas were not being targeted.
In his statement, Biden said that Putin has “chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering.”
“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.”
The president said he would be monitoring the situation from the White House on Wednesday night, and on Thursday would meet with his G7 counterparts and address the American people to announce further consequences to be imposed on Russia.
“We will also coordinate with our NATO allies to ensure a strong, united response that deters any aggression against the alliance,” Biden said. “Tonight, Jill and I are praying for the brave and proud people of Ukraine.”
Biden later spoke by phone to Zelensky, and said afterwards he had briefed the Ukrainian president on steps the U.S. was taking to rally international condemnation of Russia’s attack.
“He asked me to call on the leaders of the world to speak out clearly against President Putin’s flagrant aggression, and to stand with the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.
He reaffirmed that the U.S. and allies would on Thursday impose “severe sanctions on Russia,” and that the U.S. would continue to provide support and assistance to Ukraine and its people.
In his speech, Putin cited the provisions of the recently-signed documents recognizing as “independent” the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.
He also invoked article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which deals with member-states’ inherent right of self-defense.
On Wednesday, the leaders of the two proxies in eastern Ukraine, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, sent Putin letters requesting Moscow in writing to “render aid in repelling the military aggression of the Ukrainian regime.”