On Thursday (February 24), Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised a military campaign in eastern Ukraine, potentially igniting a conflict in Europe over Russia’s demands for a stop to Nato’s eastward expansion.

A Reuters witness heard the sound of what looked to be explosions in the distance from the capital, Kyiv, just after Mr Putin spoke.

The separatist eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk was also rocked by explosions, and civilian planes were told to stay away as the US warned that Russia will launch a big strike on its neighbour.

Mr Putin said he had authorised a special military operation in separatist areas of eastern Ukraine, and that conflicts between Russian and Ukrainian forces were just a matter of time, according to Russian media.

Mr Putin claimed he had ordered Russian forces to defend the people and that Ukrainian soldiers lay down their guns, only hours after pro-Russian rebels appealed to Moscow for help to stop purported Ukrainian aggression – assertions the US condemned as Russian propaganda.

He reiterated his stance that Nato’s expansion to include Ukraine is too risky.

Shortly before Mr Putin’s declaration, the United States warned the UN Security Council that an invasion was coming.

“We are here tonight because we fear, together with Ukraine, that a full-scale, further Russian incursion into Ukraine is coming,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield addressed an emergency conference.

“The Russians are closing airspace, moving soldiers into Donbas, and putting forces in combat-ready positions tonight. This is a dangerous time.”

Ukraine has barred civilian aircraft in its airspace owing to a “possible danger,” only hours after a conflict zone monitor advised airlines to avoid overflights due to the possibility of an unintentional shootdown or cyber-attack.

According to a warning to airmen, Russia also partially blocked its airspace in the Rostov flight information zone to the east of its border with Ukraine “in order to guarantee safety” for civil aviation aircraft.

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