By air, land, and sea, Russia has launched a devastating attack on Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people, and its forces are on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv.
For months, President Vladimir Putin denied he would invade his neighbor, but then he tore up a peace deal, sending forces across borders in Ukraine’s north, east, and south.
As the number of dead climbs, he stands accused of shattering the peace in Europe. What happens next could jeopardize the continent’s entire security structure.
Why have Russian troops attacked?
Russian troops are advancing on Ukraine’s capital from several directions after Russia’s leader ordered the invasion. In a pre-dawn TV address on 24 February, he declared Russia could not feel “safe, develop and exist” because of what he claimed was a constant threat from modern Ukraine.
Airports and military headquarters were hit first, near cities across Ukraine, then tanks and troops rolled into Ukraine from the north, east, and south – from Russia and its ally Belarus.
Many of President Putin’s arguments were false or irrational. He claimed his goal was to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification” of Ukraine. There has been no genocide in Ukraine: it is a vibrant democracy, led by a president who is Jewish.
“How could I be a Nazi?” said Volodymyr Zelensky, who likened Russia’s onslaught to Nazi Germany’s invasion in World War Two.
What Does Putin Want?
President Putin has frequently accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists, ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule.
Russia then retaliated by seizing the southern region of Crimea and triggering a rebellion in the east, backing separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces in a war that has claimed 14,000 lives.
Late in 2021, Russia began deploying big numbers of troops close to Ukraine’s borders, while repeatedly denying it was going to attack. Then Mr. Putin scrapped a 2015 peace deal for the east and recognized areas under rebel control as independent.
Russia has long resisted Ukraine’s move towards the European Union and the West’s defensive military alliance, Nato. Announcing Russia’s invasion, he accused Nato of threatening “our historic future as a nation”.