Feb. 23 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a “special military operation” in Eastern Ukraine while the United Nations Security Council was in an emergency session attempting a last-minute ditch effort to prevent war.
Putin announced the operation in an early Thursday televised speech, stating its aim is the “demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” The New York Times reported, referring to a World Word II term concerning the ridding of Germany and Austria of Nazi ideology.
The announcement came hours after the Kremlin said Russia-backed rebels in the breakaway Eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as the Donbas territories, asked it for military assistance.
“I have taken the decision to carry out a special military operation,” Putin said. “Its goal will be to defend people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kyiv regime,” he said. “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 all Ukrainian soldiers who lay down their arms will be allowed to leave the “battle zone.”
Russia does not plan to occupy Ukraine, he said.
The military operation comes after Putin on Monday recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as deployed troops to them in a peacekeeping mission.
In justification of the Monday move, Putin falsely said Ukraine was historically Russian land and that modern Ukraine was “entirely created” by Moscow when former leaders awarded Kyiv too much autonomy following the 1917 revolution.
Putin has also justified the months-long military buildup of more than 150,000 troops at the Ukrainian border as a response to Ukraine being run by neo-Nazis and its potential membership to the NATO defensive military alliance, which Russia views as a threat.
Ukraine has refuted the accusations, with President Volodymyr Zelensky stating in an address to the people of Russia late Wednesday that 8 million of them died in the fight against Nazism.
The announcement came as the United States and allies have been warning a Russian invasion was imminent and they would use a false pretext to conduct it.
Moments after Putin’s televised speech, U.S. President Joe Biden issued a statement saying Russia is alone in bearing the responsibility for the death and destruction this “premeditated war” will produce.
“The United States and its allies and partners will respond in a united and decisive way,” he said. “The world will hold Russia accountable.”
“The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine tonight,” he said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said member nations will meet to address “the consequences” of Russia’s military action while calling on Putin to cease.
“NATO will do all it takes to protect and defend all allies,” he said in a statement.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said Putin had launched “a full-scale war” and that Ukraine will defend itself.
“The world can and must stop Putin,” he said on Twitter. “It’s to time act — immediately.”
Putin made the announcement as the United Nations Security Council was holding an emergency meeting diplomats framed as a last chance at diplomacy.
“Tonight, I think we’re starring into the abyss of a major conflict in Ukraine,” Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s permanent representative to the United Nations, told reporters as she headed into the meeting.
The United States and allies have been warning that Russia was on the brink of conducting a full-scale invasion of Ukraine for days and that it would use a false pretext as justification.
This is a developing story.