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Vladimir Putin has authorised a “special military operation” in eastern Ukraine, Russian state media reported at the same time as the United Nations Security Council met for its second emergency meeting this week to urge a de-escalation and return to talks.
Putin’s announcement came as Linda Thomas-Green, the United States ambassador to the UN, told the council that the US was concerned a “full-scale” invasion of Ukraine by Russia was imminent.
“Tonight, we’re seeing the Russians close airspace, move troops into Donbas, and move forces into combat-ready positions,” she said.
“This is a perilous moment and we are here for one reason and one reason only – to ask Russia to stop.”
Russian media reported President Putin saying he had given approval to a “special military operation” in the Donbas region of Ukraine, where Moscow earlier recognised rebel-held territories in Luhansk and Donetsk and said they had asked for its “help”. Clashes between Russian and Ukrainian forces were only a matter of time, he added.
Shortly after Putin spoke, Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, who is in Kyiv, said there were explosions in the capital and power had been cut. It appeared to be a “full scale attack”, he said.
Explosions also rocked the breakaway eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk and civilian aircraft were warned away, while there were reports of naval landings at Odessa.
“Putin has just launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote in Twitter. “Peaceul Ukrainian cities are under strikes. 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.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres condemned Russia’s actions in an impassioned appeal.
“In the name of humanity bring your troops back to Russia,” he said. “In the name of humanity, do not allow a war to start in Europe which could be worst war since the beginning of the century with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation but with an impact cannot even foresee.”
Referring to Putin’s recognition of the breakaway territory, deployment of troops and the so-called “special operations”, Norway’s ambassador Mona Juul said the decisions were “unjust, unprovoked and irresponsible” and that Moscow should reverse them.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya, who is the current president of the security council, admitted that “special operations” were underway, insisting the action did not amount to war and was the result of Ukraine’s actions.
“The aim of the operation is to protect the people who for eight years have been suffering “genocide” of the Ukrainian regime,” he said, claiming the action was justified under Article 51 of the UN Charter (the article allows for individual or collective self-defence in the face of an armed attack on a UN member state).
Putin demanded Ukrainian forces lay down their arms, and repeated his position that any Ukrainian membership of NATO was unacceptable to Moscow.
The Ukraine ambassador appeared lost for words: “Three minutes ago, your president declared war on my country,” he said to Nebenzya.
In a second round of comments he concluded: “There’s no purgatory for war criminals, Mr Ambassador, they go to hell”.
The US said it was calling for an urgent resolution and was backed by the UK, France and Ireland who noted Russia’s utter “disdain” for the United Nations.
Source: Al Jazeera