Russia’s Putin announces a ‘military operation’ in Ukraine.AFP

Russia’s Putin announces a ‘military operation’ in Ukraine.AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Thursday a military operation in Ukraine to defend separatists in the east of the country, and “demilitarise and de-nazify” its pro-Western neighbor.0 seconds of 0 secondsVolume 0%

“I have made the decision of a military operation,” he said in a surprise statement on television shortly before 6 am (0300 GMT).

He went on to denounce what he called a “genocide” orchestrated by Ukraine in the country’s east, as well as NATO’s aggressive policy towards Russia.

“For this, we will strive to achieve demilitarisation and de-Nazification of Ukraine,” said Putin, promising to bring “to court those who have committed many crimes, responsible for the bloodshed of civilians, including Russian citizens”.

The Russian leader addressed the Ukrainian military, calling on soldiers to “lay down your arms”, before issuing an assurance that they could “leave the battlefield without hindrance”.

He said that he did not want an “occupation” of Ukraine, but its “demilitarisation”. 

Putin then addressed those “who would try to interfere with us… they must know that the response of Russia will be immediate and will lead to consequences that you have never known before”. 

“I am sure that the soldiers and officers of Russia will fulfil their duty with courage,” he said, adding “the security of the country is guaranteed.” 

The Russian leader did not specify the scope of the military operation, or whether it would be limited to eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia’s leader President Vladimir Putin of launching a “full-scale invasion”, after explosions were heard in cities around the country. 

“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Peaceful Ukrainian cities are under strikes,” Kuleba tweeted. “This is a war of aggression. Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now.”

The country has decided to close its airspace to civilian travel. Its infrastructure ministry said the airspace was closing “due to the high risk to safety,” halting air travel shortly after midnight (local).

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