St Petersburg, Russia – On Thursday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his armed forces were launching a massive operation against Ukraine, sending frightened Kyiv residents into underground stations for shelter.
Many took to the road and tried to flee Ukraine’s capital city.
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The official line of the Kremlin and state-friendly media is in line with Putin’s assessment – that Russia had no choice but to respond to Ukrainian “aggression”, and the military is crippling Ukraine’s defence capability while avoiding civilian casualties.
Alexander Kots, war correspondent from the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, who is stationed in Donbas, reported that on Wednesday evening “Ukraine tried to solve its territorial issue by force”, but rebel fighters had beaten back a Ukrainian advance across the Donets River.
Kots added that at 6:30am (04:30 GMT) on Thursday, a decision was made to launch a counteroffensive on Ukraine, and the entire rebel force had been mobilised.
Russian Ministry of Defence spokesman Igor Konashenkov told reporters that Russian forces were indeed mounting a counteroffensive and attacks would target military sites.
Konashenkov also claimed that the Ukrainian security services are fabricating videos of mass casualties and attacks on civilians.
“We draw the attention of the media that the Security Service of Ukraine is preparing and is already implementing provocations according to the well-known templates of the White Helmets,” he said, referring to the volunteer search-and-rescue group in Syria, which the Russian and Syrian governments have accused of staging war crimes for propaganda.
“Their goal is to accuse Russia of supposedly indiscriminate and disproportionate strikes to intimidate the civilian population and broadcast on Western TV channels.”
TV pundit Vladimir Solovyov, a regular fixture on Russian screens and the radio, solemnly told his viewers this was an historic day.
“Today is the day on which the righteous de-Nazification of Ukraine begins. A most important day, a day which decides the course of our history,” he said on his YouTube channel, Solovyov LIVE.
De-Nazification refers to the supposed presence of far-right and ultranationalist elements in Ukraine’s leadership.
“We all need to recognise that our lives will never be the same. Whether it will be better or worse depends on us,” he said.
“President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin very clearly described the nature of the problem and why it was necessary to take action, why we acknowledged the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, and why we had no choice but to coerce Ukraine into peace.”
Several minutes later, Solovyov claimed that the attacks against Ukraine are being carried out with “surgical precision” exclusively on military installations.
Solovyov’s description of the “necessary” military action stands in contrast to his position as late as Sunday, when he appeared on the Rossiya-1 channel and, holding back tears, said, “They say that generals are the last ones who want to go to war because, unlike politicians, they know what it leads to.”
Critics come out
However, outside these pro-government circles, the latest actions by the Russian military have considerably less support.
As of time of writing, at least 86 journalists, reporters and media figures, mainly from independent outlets, as well as the BBC, had signed a petition condemning Russia’s operation in Ukraine.
The petition was started by Yelena Chernenko, business reporter for the newspaper Kommersant.
Meanwhile, more than a hundred municipal deputies from Moscow, St Petersburg, Samara, Ryazan and other cities have signed an open letter to the citizens of Russia, urging them not to take part or stay silent.
“We, the deputies elected by the people, unreservedly condemn the attack of the Russian army on Ukraine,” the letter reads. “This is an unparalleled atrocity for which there is and cannot be justification.”
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who was appearing before a judge for contempt of court, took the opportunity to make a statement.
“I am against this war. I think this war is designed to divert attention from Russia’s problems, and it will only lead to greater impoverishment,” he said, before being interrupted by the judge. “I consider those who unleashed this war to be bandits and thieves.”
Large-scale protests are reportedly planned in several Russian cities later on Thursday, and social media images have showed an increased number of single-pickets across the country.