Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in a television address early Thursday morning from the Kremlin that Russia has decided to launch a “special military action” to demilitarize Ukraine. The announcement is expected to be a declaration of war against Ukraine.
Shortly after Putin’s speech, reports from the ground said that Russian forces had begun entering Ukraine from Crimea.
Explosions could be heard and seen in live video coverage on the ground.
In his speech, which took place around 6 a.m. in Russia (10 p.m. Wednesday EST), Putin called on Ukrainians to lay down their weapons, and said they would be allowed to return to their families.
Putin said the U.S. and its allies refused to meet Russia’s security guarantees and demands to keep Ukraine from joining NATO. He said Russia’s military operation to demilitarize Ukraine was necessary to protect civilians, warning those who try to intervene in Russia’s efforts will be met with a military response.
Sen. Marco Rubio, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said late Wednesday in the U.S. that in the coming hours, Russia will “conduct strikes on air defense systems, move to cut off Kyiv from eastern Ukraine, move to cut off Ukraine’s military forces on the line of contact in the east to prevent them from falling back to defend Kyiv.”
Rubio later added that Russia’s air forces were in the process of taking over the Kyiv airport in order to fly in additional forces for a full takeover of the city. He also said an amphibious assault on the port city of Mariupol was taking place, and Russian forces were moving into Ukraine from Belarus, Crimea, and Russia.
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin reported, citing a U.S. official: “Right now we are seeing the pre assault fires. Expect this to go on for a few hours. Land attack to follow with ALL of the full forces Putin has arrayed. Explosions heard in Kiev, Odessa, Mariupol. ‘It’s begun.'”
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session on Ukraine late Wednesday night, which was still in session after Russian forces began attacking Ukraine.
Ukraine had declared a national emergency and closed its airspace to civilian flights earlier Wednesday. By later in the day, only U.S. drones were flying overhead, according to flight tracking data.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby warned during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon that Russia had achieved “an advanced stage of readiness to act – to conduct military action in Ukraine,” adding that an attack could take place “virtually any time now.”
He noted that Russia has amassed some 150,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, and forces were moving closer to the border. “We believe they are ready,” he said.
On Monday, Putin signed a document signifying Russia’s recognition of the sovereignty of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR or DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR or LPR), two areas in eastern Ukraine that have been held by Russian-backed separatists. Shortly after recognizing the DNR and LNR as sovereign, and therefore separate from Ukraine, Putin ordered Russian troops already gathered on Ukraine’s border to cross over under the pretense of protecting the separatist areas from a Ukrainian attack.
President Joe Biden issued sanctions against the DNR and LNR, an act that Putin threatened would be met with a “strong response.”