Russia-Ukraine live updates: US pledges to hold Russia accountable after attacking Ukraine

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said on state television on February 24 that Russia was beginning a military operation in eastern Ukraine. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation against Ukraine in a speech broadcast on Russian state television early Thursday, as the Kremlin attacked military targets on Ukrainian territory in what President Biden called ” premeditated war” against Russia’s western neighbour.

Putin described the aim of the military operation as ending “genocide” against the people of Ukraine’s Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists have been at war with Ukrainian forces since 2014.

“Its goal is to protect people who have been abused by the genocide of the Kiev regime for eight years,” Putin said. “And to that end, we will fight for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine. We will also bring to justice those who have committed the many bloody crimes against civilians, including citizens of the Russian Federation.

Although Putin said the operation involved the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, the Russian military attacked a wide range of targets across the country, including in the capital, Kiev, and the eastern city of Kharkiv.

Putin said Russia has no intention of occupying Ukrainian territory but referred to local peoples’ right to self-determination, suggesting Moscow may consider holding referenda in parts of Ukraine after the military campaign.

The Russian leader referred to the referendum Russia held in Crimea in 2014, subsequently annexing the piece of Ukrainian territory located on the Black Sea.

Putin also spoke directly to members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, calling on them to lay down their arms and refuse to follow orders from their superiors in Kyiv.

He also warned anyone planning to interfere with Russia’s plans of serious consequences, appearing to threaten the use of nuclear weapons.

“Anyone who tries to interfere with our actions should know that the Russian response will be immediate and will lead to the kind of consequences you have never experienced in your entire history,” Putin said. “We are ready for any scenario of events.”

He said Russia could no longer tolerate a Ukraine he said had been held hostage by forces hostile to Russia.

Putin said Russia “cannot feel secure, develop and exist with the constant threat coming from the modern territory of Ukraine.”

Therefore, he said, he had no choice but to authorize a military operation. He noted, “We were simply given no other option to defend Russia and our people than the one we will use today.”

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