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Russian troops launched a multipronged attack against Ukraine on Thursday, an act Western officials called “a premeditated war” even as President Vladimir Putin discarded international condemnation and threats of sanctions, the Associated Press reported.
A number of large explosions were heard in various cities early Thursday local time, including in the capital Kyiv, with Ukrainian officials saying that Russian forces have been targeting military infrastructure and bases.
The assault came shortly after Putin declared on Russian state television that Russia was launching a military operation for the “demilitarization and denazification” of eastern Ukraine, according to the Washington Post.
Putin’s assault follows a request by Russian-backed separatists in the east for military assistance to fight Ukrainian aggression, which the United States has described as a “false flag” operation to create a pretext for invasion.
The Russian leader said he does not intend to occupy Ukraine but emphasized that he ordered the assault because “Russia cannot feel safe and develop and exist with the constant threat coming from the modern territory of Ukraine.”
He also issued a stark warning that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen.”
The attacks mark the latest escalation in the Ukrainian conflict, which first began in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula following that year’s Ukraine’s Maidan revolution that deposed a pro-Moscow leader and ushered in a pro-Western government, as protesters demanded.
Russia then fomented revolutions in eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as Donbas. Earlier this week, Putin moved to recognize those territories as independent and ordered Russian forces there for “peacekeeping” operations.
Meanwhile, the US, the European Union, Japan, the United Nations and NATO fiercely condemned the attack and have imposed a series of sanctions against prominent Russians and the Russian economy, including revoking permission for the operation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
US and European leaders are expected to impose another round of sanctions but Russian officials have dismissed those threats, saying that “it is able to minimize the damage.”
Despite efforts to prevent the conflict, the assaults could have major consequences throughout the world: Apart from causing casualties in Ukraine, the tense situation could affect energy supplies in Europe, shake up global financial markets and threaten the post-Cold War balance on the continent.