Explosions Rock Ukraine After Putin Authorizes Russian Military Operation

Explosions Rock Ukraine After Putin Authorizes Russian Military Operation
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Protesters demonstrate Wednesday outside the Embassy of the Russian Federation in London amid escalating threat of Russia’s full-scale military invasion into the Ukrainian territory.


Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Minutes after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine, journalists near the country’s northeast reported hearing a “steady stream of loud explosions” early Thursday, local time. Reporters near several cities across Ukraine, including Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, the capital Kyiv and Kramatorsk, reported hearing explosions.

Putin said the goal of the military operation is to demilitarize Ukraine but not occupy it. “For this we will aim for demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine as well as taking to court those who carried out multiple bloody crimes against civilians including citizens of the Russian Federation,” Putin said in a statement.

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US President Joe Biden said late Wednesday that the US and partners will respond in “decisive way” and “hold Russia accountable.”

“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.”

Russia invaded Ukraine — which was part of the Soviet Union until it declared independence in 1991 — back in 2014 before annexing Crimea. Russia has backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, two regions in eastern Ukraine that Russia now recognizes as independent. Approximately 14,000 people have reportedly been killed in ongoing conflicts in eastern Ukraine. 

Putin has previously accused the Ukrainian government of pursuing “genocide” in Donetsk and Luhans, whose populations are overwhelmingly ethnic Russian. But he’s also lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he described as the “disintegration of historical Russia” in a documentary film called Russia. New History.

Putin has also long bristled at NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe. The US and NATO in December rejected a Russian proposal that called for “a Cold War-like security arrangement,” according to The New York Times, including demands for “ironclad” guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia never become members of NATO. The admission of either country would increase the military alliance’s presence along Russia’s border. 

After the reported explosions, Britain’s ambassador to the UN on Wednesday accused Russia of holding Ukraine hostage and asked Russia to avoid war, saying it would have “devastating humanitarian consequences,” costing lives on both sides.

“For months, Russia has been holding a gun to Ukraine’s head. Now, President Putin’s finger is on the trigger,” United Kingdom Ambassador Barbara Woodward said Wednesday night during an emergency UN Security Council meeting requested by Ukraine. “The world is calling for peace, but Russia is not listening.”

Earlier in the day, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky made a televised appeal for peace in a dramatic last-minute effort to avert war in Eastern Europe.

“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Zelensky said during the emotional address. “But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.”

The invasion follows weeks of rising tensions as diplomatic efforts to defuse the conflict failed to find a resolution. More than 150,000 Russian troops are said to be surrounding Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the European Union agreed to a package of sanctions against Russia, targeting banks that fund the country’s military operations and banning trade between the EU and the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. Germany also halted approval of the Nord Stream 2, a key natural gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany. 

The Pentagon has put 8,500 US troops on high alert to bolster NATO’s response force, and Biden on Tuesday reiterated that the US will provide defensive assistance to Ukraine and reinforce its NATO allies.

The conflict has already had global economic consequences, with the price of oil nearing $100 a barrel on Wednesday.

On Feb. 18, US officials also said they believe Russia was responsible for cyberattacks against Ukraine’s banks and military earlier this month. They were the latest in a string of digital incursions that have been blamed on Russia, including attacks that defaced government websites and planted destructive malware on Ukrainian computer networks.

Earlier in January, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pushed back on Russia’s demands, saying the US would “not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open door policy.”

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