TIME – The Russian military launched a multi-pronged assault on cities throughout Ukraine early Thursday morning, defying months of diplomatic efforts by the U.S. and its allies to deter the invasion, and triggering the greatest military crisis on the European continent since the Cold War. U.S. President Joe Biden denounced the attacks as “unprovoked and unjustified” and said, “The world will hold Russia accountable.”
Beginning in the predawn hours, explosions struck Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, and other major cities as air raid sirens rang out. Cruise missiles hit airfields, military depots and the headquarters of the Ukrainian armed forces in the east of the country, according to the country’s Interior Ministry. U.S. officials believe the air attacks were the first facet of a phased operation that would be followed up by a ground invasion involving more than 150,000 Russian forces that have been amassing on Ukraine’s borders since late last year.
The large-scale military operation began immediately after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of a “special military operation” with the goal of executing a “demilitarization” of Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow did not intend to stop until the country’s armed forces had capitulated. That would mark the end of Ukraine’s post-Soviet independence and its three decades as a fledgling democracy, one in which Putin’s longtime allies still hold seats in parliament.
People are seen outside the cordoned off area around the remains of a shell in a street in Kyiv on Feb. 24, 2022.
In his statement announcing the invasion Thursday, Putin warned against any efforts to deter Moscow’s forces. “Anyone who tries to interfere with us, or even more so, to create threats for our country and our people, must know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences as you have never before experienced in your history,” Putin said. “We are ready for any turn of events.”
Now that the Russian military operation in Ukraine has begun, there are looming fears about the risks that come with it for the rest of Europe and the world. Over the last several weeks, the U.S. and European allies have moved troops, naval ships and warplanes eastward on the continent, near where Russian military is operating, to deter Putin from further aggression. Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but it borders four nations that are—Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Biden and other NATO allies have pledged to protect their eastern and central European members under the NATO treaty’s mutual defense commitments.
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