Putin orders ‘special military operation’ in eastern Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a “special military operation” in Ukraine’s Donbass region to “defend people” there against government forces, stressing that Moscow has “no plans to occupy Ukrainian territory.”
In a televised address early on Thursday, Putin said he had ordered the Russian Federation's military to carry out a “special military operation” in the Donbass region after the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk asked the Kremlin for military assistance in response to what they called “Ukrainian aggression.”
In 2014, Ukraine’s two regions of Donetsk and Lugansk – collectively known as the Donbass – were turned into self-proclaimed republics by ethnic Russians, leading to a bloody conflict between the government forces and the armed separatists.
The conflict worsened following a wave of protests in Ukraine that led to the overthrow of a democratically-elected pro-Russia government, which was later replaced with a Western-backed administration. The majority in those areas refused to endorse the new administration.
More than 14,000 people have been killed so far.
Ukraine, as well as the European Union (EU) and the United States, claims that Russia has a hand in the conflict in the Donbass. Moscow denies the allegation.
On Monday, Putin signed a decree recognizing the breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk regions as independent republics. The recognition followed an address in which he referred to eastern Ukraine as “ancient Russian lands” being “managed by foreign powers.”
In his address on Thursday, Putin said the special operation would aim to he “demilitarize” and "de-Nazify” Ukraine, stressing, "We have no plans to occupy Ukrainian territory.”
The Russian leader emphasized that the goal of the military operation “will be to defend people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
“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 Russia Federation,” he declared.
Putin calls on Ukraine forces to lay down arms
Putin also called on Ukrainian government troops to immediately lay down their arms, saying, “All service members of the Ukrainian army who follow these demands will be able to leave the battle zone.”
Russia and the US-led NATO have long been at odds over Ukraine. Moscow views NATO’s eastward expansion as a direct threat to Russian security. Recently, it had put forward a set of security proposals to de-escalate the tensions, including a guarantee that Ukraine will not join NATO, a demand that the alliance said was a non-starter.
In his speech on Thursday, Putin issued a stern warning to countries that threaten Russia’s security.