Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday a military operation in Ukraine to defend separatists in the east of the country.
“I have made the decision of a military operation,” he said in a surprise statement on television shortly before 6 am (0300 GMT).
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Russia could start “a major war in Europe” in the coming days and urged Russians to oppose the attack.
In an address aired shortly after midnight Zelensky said Russia could invade Ukraine “any day now” and, addressing the Russian people, said whether that happens “depends on you.”
The United Nations Security Council will convene for its second emergency session in three days over the Ukraine-Russia crisis, “due to military developments” on the ground, diplomatic sources said.
The meeting, which was requested by Kyiv earlier Wednesday and backed by Western Security Council members, is scheduled for 9:30 pm (0230 GMT Thursday), the sources said.
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced tough new sanctions on Russia for “beginning” an invasion of Ukraine but said there was still time to avoid war, even as Vladimir Putin signaled plans to send troops beyond Russia’s borders.
Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, gave Putin unanimous approval to deploy “peacekeepers” to two breakaway Ukrainian regions now recognized by Moscow as independent, and potentially into other parts of Ukraine.
Biden announced what he called the “first tranche” of sanctions, including steps to starve Russia of financing and target financial institutions and the country’s “elites.”
But he left the door open to a final effort at diplomacy to avert a full-scale Russian invasion.
“There’s no question that Russia is the aggressor, so we’re clear eyed about the challenges we’re facing,” the president said.
“Nonetheless, there is still time to avert the worst case scenario that will bring untold suffering to millions of people.”
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US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the “world will hold Russia accountable” over its attack on Ukraine that he warned will cause “catastrophic loss of life.”
In a statement issued shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of military operations in Ukraine, Biden said he would address the US public on Thursday to outline the “consequences” for Russia, calling the attack “unprovoked and unjustified.”
The United States reacted to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Moscow by saying that it is the responsibility of every “responsible” country to voice objection to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The US has informed Pakistan about its position on the situation in Ukraine, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday.
“We’ve communicated to Pakistan our position regarding Russia’s further renewed invasion of Ukraine and we have briefed them on our efforts to pursue diplomacy over war,” Price said during a press briefing when asked about Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s scheduled meeting with Russians President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
The United States views its partnership with Ukraine as critical to US interests, Price added.
At least five explosions were heard in the separatist-held eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk early on Thursday, a Reuters witness said.
Following the blasts, four military trucks could be seen heading for the scene. Hours earlier, the Kremlin said two separatist breakaway regions in Ukraine had asked for Russian help to repel “aggression” by the Ukrainian army.
Twitter acknowledged Wednesday it suspended in error some accounts relaying information about Russian military movements as the threat builds for an attack on Ukraine, reported AFP.
The social network has begun restoring access to the users, which were taken down due to “our work to proactively address manipulated media,” tweeted the platform’s head of site integrity Yoel Roth.
A company spokesperson said earlier claims that the accounts were taken offline by a coordinated campaign or mass complaints were untrue.
France on Wednesday became the latest Western nation to call on its citizens to leave Ukraine “without delay,” amid mounting concerns that Russia is preparing a full-scale attack.
“In the context of serious tensions caused by the concentration of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders” as well as Russia’s recognition of two separatist regions and Ukraine’s imposition of a state of emergency, “French citizens finding themselves in Ukraine should leave the country without delay,” France’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
The EU on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu and military chiefs as part of a package of measures over the Kremlin’s recognition of two separatist Ukrainian regions as independent.
The 27-nation bloc slapped asset freezes and visa bans on high-ranking figures including the commanders of Russia’s army, navy and air force, the Kremlin’s chief of staff, the head of state-run television channel RT and the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, according to the EU’s official journal.