Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says he had no other choice than launching a military operation in Ukraine to stop the Ukrainian military’s interference in two eastern republics that have broken away from Ukraine.
"We had no other way of proceeding," Putin said during a televised meeting with business representatives on Thursday. "What was happening left us with no choice," he added.
Earlier in the day, the Russian head of state announced a "special military operation" aimed at “demilitarization” of the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics.
The regions broke away from Ukraine in 2014 after refusing to recognize a Western-backed Ukrainian government that had overthrown a democratically-elected Russia-friendly administration.
More than 14,000 people have been killed so far across the regions as a result of the conflict that ensued between the Ukrainian military and the pro-Russian separatists.
Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years are suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
Russia’s defense ministry has, meanwhile, asserted that the operation posed no threat to civilian lives in Ukraine, saying the Ukrainian government had started using staged videos to accuse Russian forces of conducting indiscriminate strikes against civilian targets.
‘NATO’s eastward expansion crossed red line’
Putin also said the operation was launched after the Western military alliance of NATO’s eastward expansion crossed Moscow’s “red line.”
Russia and NATO have long been at odds over Ukraine. Moscow views NATO’s eastward expansion as a direct threat to its security. Recently, it had put forward a set of security proposals to de-escalate the tensions, including a guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO, a demand that the alliance said was a non-starter.
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg vowed earlier that “we have already increased and we are increasing the presence of NATO troops in the eastern part of the alliance on NATO territory.”
“What we do is defensive,” Stoltenberg added, announcing that NATO would put more than 100 warplanes on high alert as part of what he called new “deterrence and defense” steps against Russia.
‘Russia doesn’t want to undermine global econ. system’
Putin also noted he did not want to harm the global economic system that Russia was a part of, adding that "it seems to me that our partners should understand this and not set themselves the task of pushing us out of this system."
The United States and its allies have, however, begun imposing severe sanctions on the Russian economy.
Germany has suspended its participation in the Nord Stream 2 project that would double Russia’s gas exports to Europe.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said his country and its allies would unleash what he called a massive package of coercive economic measures to “hobble” the Russian economy.