MOSCOW (AP) — Russian troops launched their anticipated attack on Ukraine on Thursday, as President Vladimir Putin cast aside international condemnation and sanctions, warning other countries that any attempt to interfere would lead to "consequences you have never seen."
Big explosions were heard before dawn in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Odesa as world leaders decried the start of an Russian invasion that could cause massive casualties and topple Ukraine's democratically elected government.
U.S. President Joe Biden pledged new sanctions meant to punish Russia for an act of aggression that the international community had for weeks anticipated but could not prevent through diplomacy.
Putin justified it all in a televised address, asserting the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia's demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees, and credulously claimed that Russia doesn't intend to occupy Ukraine but will move to "demilitarize" it and bring those who committed crimes to justice.
Biden in a written statement condemned the "unprovoked and unjustified attack" on Ukraine and he promised the U.S. and its allies "will hold Russia accountable." Biden said he planned to speak to Americans on Thursday after a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders. More sanctions against Russia were expected to be announced Thursday.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described the action as a "full-scale invasion of Ukraine" and a "war of aggression," adding, "Ukraine will defend itself and will win. The world can and must stop Putin. The time to act is now."
The Russian military said it has struck Ukrainian air bases and other military assets and hasn't targeted populated areas. The Russian Defense Ministry statement said the military is using precision weapons to target Ukrainian air bases, air defense assets and other military infrastructure. It claimed that "there is no threat to civilian population."
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, said on Facebook that the Russian military has launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, air bases and military depots in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.
After the initial explosions in Kyiv, people could be heard shouting in the streets. But then a sense of normality returned, with cars circulating and people walking in the streets as a pre-dawn commute appeared to be starting in relative calm.
Beyond casualties that could overwhelm Ukraine's government, the consequences of the conflict and resulting sanctions levied on Russia could reverberate throughout the world, affecting energy supplies in Europe, jolting global financial markets and threatening the post-Cold War balance on the continent.
Asian stock markets plunged and oil prices surged after the military action got underway. Earlier, Wall Street's benchmark S&P 500 index fell 1.8% to an eight-month low after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine asked for military assistance
Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle, saying, "whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history."
Putin urged Ukrainian servicemen to "immediately put down arms and go home."
In a stark reminder of Russia's nuclear power, Putin warned that "no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor." He emphasized that Russia is "one of the most potent nuclear powers and also has a certain edge in a range of state-of-the-art weapons."