Vladimir Putin said that Russia invaded Ukraine to protect the breakaway regions in the east of the country but Thursday’s military assault also came from the north and the south.
Ukraine’s leaders have said that the invasion amounts to a “full-scale war” and that Putin’s intention is to destroy Ukraine as a state. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law and urged citizens to stay at home.
Putin has warned the international community that any attempt to intervene will be met with “consequences that the world has never seen before”.
How did we get here?
Earlier this week, Putin appeared to lay the ideological groundwork for such a move, claiming that Ukraine had been “invented” by the Soviet Union, a claim that has been derided as historical revisionism at best and, at worst, complete fiction.
The US and European leaders - as well as Ukraine - have been warning for weeks that Putin was preparing to invade Ukraine, something that was repeatedly denied by Moscow. At one point, the Kremlin even published a video showing Russian units withdrawing from the border.
But even then, Russia had more than 150,000 units massed on the border with Ukraine -- according to Western officials -- and had been increasingly aggressive in his rhetoric against Kyiv.
Putin invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014 and Russia has backed the breakaway regions of the Donetsk and the Luhansk People’s Republics since they seized territory in the east of the country in the same year. This week he formally recognised the independence of both states.
When the leadership of the DPR and LHR claimed that the Ukrainians were shelling their positions earlier this week and sent thousands of evacuees over the border into Russia, the White House predicted that Russia would use the incident as an excuse to invade.
What is the situation now?
Explosions have been reported across the country including near the capital Kyiv and the second-largest city Kharkiv.
"The most problematic situation today is in the south. Our troops are fighting fierce battles in the suburbs of Kherson. The enemy is pushing out of the occupied Crimea, trying to advance towards Melitopol," said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.Russia’s defence ministry said on Thursday evening that it had completely disabled the Ukrainian air force and destroyed as many as 11 bases. It denied that Russian or separatist forces had targetted civilians and claimed that Ukrainian soldiers had left their positions.
Meanwhile, world leaders decried the invasion.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called it a “brutal act of war” and US President Joe Biden said Putin “has chosen [to] bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering."
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain “cannot and will not just look away.”
What does Putin want?
Hans Kristensen, an associate fellow at Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, says that rather than an operation to shore up the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Putin wants to take as much of Ukraine as he can.
“This is total war, both in terms of how much territory they can take now and how much they can then hold after this is done,” Kristensen said.
“He wants to nullify the Ukrainian military so they can’t push back and so he can take the regions in the east and redraw the map.
It isn’t unreasonable to think, Kristensen said, that Russia will go further, as far as Kyiv, or the west. But holding territory after the conflict is going to be expensive for the Kremlin, particularly in the face of sanctions. “It is not going to be easy by any means,” he said.
“I expect it was a gamble.”
How will it end?
Radu Magdin, an analyst based in Bucharest, tells Euronews that a lot will depend on what Ukraine does next militarily.
While Ukraine has successfully rallied the international community behind it, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to win on the battlefield in the coming hours and days.
That will determine what kind of presence Russia has in the country in the coming years.
“What kind of resistance will the Ukrainians mount now? Can the Russians get all the way to Kyiv? If they can, then in future negotiations, they will be at the mercy of Russia,” he said.
Meanwhile, countries like Romania and Poland were now preparing for a refugee influx, Magdin said, with Romania committing to taking in 500,000 Ukrainians and Poland up to one million.