VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV, DASHA LITVINOVA, JURAS KARMANOV and JIM HEINZ

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian troops launched an expected attack on Ukraine on Thursday when President Vladimir Putin renounced international condemnation and sanctions, warning other countries that any attempt to intervene would lead to “consequences you have never seen.”

Before dawn, big bombings erupted in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odessa as world leaders condemned the start of a Russian invasion that could lead to mass casualties and overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected government.

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky imposed martial law, saying that Russia had struck at Ukraine’s military infrastructure, and explosions were heard throughout the country. Zelensky said he had just talked to President Joe Biden and that the United States was gathering international support for Ukraine. He urged Ukrainians to stay at home and not panic

Biden has promised to impose new sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for an act of aggression that the international community has been waiting for for weeks but has been unable to prevent through diplomacy.

Putin justified all this in a televised address, assuring that the attack was necessary to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine – a false statement that the United States predicted as a reason for the invasion. He accused the United States and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand not to allow Ukraine to join NATO and offer Moscow security guarantees, and confidently said that Russia did not intend to occupy Ukraine, but would move towards its “demilitarization” and extradition of perpetrators. justice.

In a written statement, Biden condemned the “unprovoked and unjustified attack” on Ukraine and promised that the United States and its allies would “bring Russia to justice.” Biden said he plans to hold talks with Americans Thursday after a meeting of Group of Seven leaders. New sanctions against Russia are expected to be announced on Thursday.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba called the action a “full-scale invasion of Ukraine” and a “war of aggression,” adding: “Ukraine will defend itself and win. The world can and should stop Putin. It’s time to act. “

The Russian military said it had attacked Ukrainian air bases and other military facilities, not settlements. A statement from Russia’s Defense Ministry said the military was using high-precision weapons to target Ukrainian air bases, air defenses and other military infrastructure. It stated that “there is no threat to the civilian population.”

Adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Anton Gerashchenko said on Facebook that the Russian military had launched missile strikes on Ukrainian military command facilities, air bases and military depots in Kiev, Kharkiv and the Dnieper.

After the first explosions in Kiev on the streets could be heard people shouting. But then a sense of normalcy returned: cars were driving and people were walking the streets when the pre-holiday trip seemed to start relatively quietly.

In addition to casualties that could block the Ukrainian government, the effects of the conflict and the resulting sanctions against Russia could affect the world, affect energy supplies to Europe, push global financial markets and threaten the continent’s balance sheet after the Cold War.

Asian stock markets have collapsed and oil prices have risen since the start of hostilities. Earlier, the benchmark S&P 500 Wall Street fell 1.8% to an eight-month low after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine had asked for military assistance

Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin warned others not to interfere, saying: “Anyone who tries to hinder us, let alone threaten our country and its people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead. to consequences you have never seen in history. ”

Putin called on the Ukrainian military to “lay down its arms immediately and go home.”

Recalling Russia’s nuclear power, Putin warned that “no one should doubt that a direct attack on our country will lead to destruction and terrible consequences for any potential aggressor.” He stressed that Russia is “one of the most powerful nuclear powers and also has a certain advantage in a number of new weapons.”

Although the United States announced on Tuesday the redeployment of forces around the Baltics, Biden said he would not send troops to fight Russia.

Putin announced the military operation after the Kremlin said rebels in eastern Ukraine had asked Russia for military assistance to help repel Ukrainian “aggression,” an announcement the White House called Moscow’s operation a “bogus flag.” offer a basis for invasion.

Putin’s statement came hours after Ukraine’s president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country posed a threat to Russia, and made a last-minute call for peace.

“The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace,” Zelensky said in an emotional night address, speaking in Russian in a direct address to Russian citizens. “But if we are attacked, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and the lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. If you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs. ”

Zelensky said he had asked to arrange a call with Putin late Wednesday, but the Kremlin did not respond.

Clearly referring to Putin’s move to authorize the deployment of Russian troops to “maintain peace” in eastern Ukraine, Zelensky warned that “this move could mark the beginning of a major war on the European continent.”

“Any provocation, any spark can cause a fire that will destroy everything,” he said.

He denied the statements of Russian propaganda, saying that “you are told that this fire will bring freedom to the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free.”

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council convened by Ukraine over the imminent threat of Russian invasion, members unaware of Putin’s statement urged him to stop the attack. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the meeting just before the announcement, telling Putin: “Stop your troops from attacking Ukraine. Give the world a chance. Too many people have already died. “

NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg has issued a statement strongly condemning “Russia’s reckless and unprovoked attack on Ukraine, which threatens countless civilian lives. Once again, despite our repeated warnings and tireless efforts of diplomacy, Russia has chosen the path of aggression against a sovereign and independent country. “

Concerns over Russia’s imminent offensive have intensified after Putin on Monday recognized the independence of separatist regions, approved the deployment of troops in rebel territory and obtained parliamentary permission to use military force outside the country. The West responded with sanctions.

Late Wednesday, Ukrainian lawmakers approved a decree imposing a nationwide state of emergency for 30 days, beginning Thursday. The measure allows the authorities to declare curfews and other restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organizations “in the interests of national security and public order.”

This action reflects the growing concern of the Ukrainian authorities after several weeks of trying to project calm. The Foreign Ministry recommended not to go to Russia and advised all Ukrainians who are there to leave immediately.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday that Russian forces with more than 150,000 troops stationed along Ukraine’s borders were on high alert. “They’re ready to go right now,” Kirby said.

On Thursday morning, the airspace over all of Ukraine was closed to civil air traffic, the statement said. A commercial flight tracking website revealed that the Israeli El Al Boeing 787, which was flying from Tel Aviv to Toronto, suddenly left Ukrainian airspace before flying over Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. The only other aircraft tracked over Ukraine was the U.S. RQ-4B Global Hawk reconnaissance drone, which began flying west on Thursday after Russia imposed restrictions on flights over Ukrainian territory.

Another wave of distributed denial-of-service attacks hit Ukraine’s parliament, other government and banking websites on Wednesday, and cybersecurity researchers said unknown assailants also infected hundreds of computers with destructive malware.

Officials have long said they expect cyberattacks to precede and accompany any Russian military invasion, and analysts say the incidents are linked to a nearly 20-year-old Russian textbook on wedding cyber operations with real-world aggression.

Even before Putin’s statement, dozens of countries imposed sanctions on Russia, which further pushed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets.

Biden has authorized sanctions against the company that built the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, and against the company’s CEO.

On Tuesday, Germany said it was suspending the project indefinitely after Biden accused Putin of launching “the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine” by sending troops into separatist regions. The pipeline is complete but not yet operational.

Even before Russia’s military attack on Ukraine, the threat of war destroyed the Ukrainian economy and caused mass casualties, energy shortages across Europe and global economic chaos.

European Union sanctions against Russia have come into force, targeting several companies along with 351 Russian lawmakers who voted in favor of the initiative, which calls on Putin to recognize the rebel regions, and 27 high-ranking government officials, business leaders and senior military officials.

Russia’s foreign ministry has waived the sanctions, saying “Russia has proven that with all the costs of sanctions, it can minimize the damage.”

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Karmanov and Heinz reported from Kyiv. Angela Charlton in Paris; Frank Jordans in Berlin; Lorne Cook in Brussels, Frank Bayak in Boston, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Amer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Ellen Nickmeyer, Zick Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington.

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Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis in the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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