Putin launches military operations in Ukraine and insists that Kyiv soldiers hand up their weapons.

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 parts of eastern Ukraine, and that conflicts between Russian and Ukrainian forces were just a matter of time in statements carried by Russian media.

Mr Putin claimed he had instructed Russian forces to defend the people and demanded that Ukrainian soldiers lay down their guns, only hours after pro-Russian rebels appealed to Moscow for assistance in stopping purported Ukrainian assault – assertions the US condemned as Russian propaganda.

He reiterated his opposition to Nato’s expansion into Ukraine.

Shortly before Mr Putin’s declaration, the US warned that an invasion was coming at the United Nations Security Council.

“We are here tonight because, together with Ukraine, we think that a full-scale, additional incursion into Ukraine by Russia is likely,” US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield addressed an emergency conference.

“The Russians are closing airspace tonight, moving soldiers into Donbas, and repositioning forces for fight. It’s a dangerous time right now.”

Ukraine has barred civilian aircraft in its airspace owing to a “possible danger,” 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 notification to airmen, Russia also partially blocked its airspace in the Rostov flight information zone, east of the Ukrainian border, “in order to guarantee safety” for civil aviation aircraft.

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