Since the official recognition of the two Donbas republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, the entry of Russian troops into Ukrainian territory became only a matter of time. One of the key elements of Vladimir Putin's plan was - as in 2008 in Georgia - the recognition of the independence of the two separatist regions, giving rise to a 'legal framework' in which the Donbas leaders could request military support from Moscow.
In contrast to the position of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who declared the maintenance of internationally recognised borders and national forces within the region, the Russian president announced in a televised speech on Wednesday night that "the Donbass people's republics approached Russia with a request for assistance".
"In connection with this I made a decision to carry out a special military operation," Vladimir Putin said.
Thus, after weeks of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts, Russia's massive assault has reached Ukrainian territory by land, sea and air. In less than 24 hours, Russian forces have reached the heart of the country, entering the Kiev region and coming within 25 kilometres of the capital.
Initially, the Moscow army focused its initial air strikes on areas close to major cities and infrastructure, especially military infrastructure - logistical centres, bases and command and air defence centres. However, the offensive has quickly been followed by the ground advance of Russian troops from Belarus in the north, Crimea in the south, and separatist enclaves in the east, in the Donbas.
"As a result of the attacks, 74 facilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were destroyed, including 11 airfields and a naval base," Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said a few hours ago. In fact, Russian sources have claimed that their army has met very weak resistance and that the Ukrainian armed forces are abandoning their positions en masse.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has decreed martial law, establishing a curfew between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. in Kiev and definitively authorising its citizens to carry firearms for use in self-defence. Zelensky declared this morning that "we are giving arms and will continue to give arms to all citizens who want to defend our sovereignty", and at the same time ordered his army to inflict "the greatest possible losses on the Russian invader".
The Ukrainian armed forces have claimed to have already shot down at least six planes, four tanks and about 50 Russian servicemen in Lugansk, as well as shooting down a Kremlin helicopter in Kiev.
Moscow's latest efforts have now focused on gaining control of Antonov International Airport in the town of Gostomel, just 25 kilometres from the centre of Kiev. "They've taken over the airport," CNN correspondent Matthew Chance broadcast a few hours ago from Ukraine's most important international cargo airfield, which is also a key military base for the country. Some experts have claimed that these attacks on airports could be part of Russia's plan to prevent further Western arms shipments to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian authorities have also alleged that the Kremlin's army has tried to take over the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of the country.
After condemnations from the international community and initial sanctions from the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom and Japan, the allied countries have not held back their rejection and dismay at the Kremlin's new moves.
"This provoked and unjustified attack is the worst on European soil since World War II, an attack against a free and sovereign people, Ukraine, and against its territorial integrity, a flagrant violation of international law [...]. The EU and member states, together, with our allies, will hold Russia to account. The European Council will agree on a massive sanctions package," said Charles Michel, President of the Council of the European Union.
In the same vein, following an emergency meeting of the NATO Council in which NATO ambassadors discussed the activation of Article 4 - requested by Estonia - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned: "we have more than 100 aircraft on high alert protecting our airspace and more than 120 allied ships at sea from the north to the Mediterranean". Article 4 of NATO's founding treaty allows allies to request assistance in the event of a threat to their territorial integrity.
Other condemnations, such as that of the British president, Boris Johnson, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, have not been long in coming, and have warned that Europe "will respond to this act of war without weakness, with calm, determination and unity". This is what Macron said during a televised speech.
Regarding the imposition of stronger sanctions, the G7 met today to finalise a new package of measures, although so far the only documents that have emerged have focused on highlighting the bloc's "unwavering support" for Kiev. The UK has unveiled a 'massive new package of economic sanctions designed to directly affect the Russian economy' that includes Russia's exclusion from the Swift international payments system, while Belgium has proposed that the EU should not grant European visas to Russian citizens.
Now, although Moscow has expressed its willingness to negotiate with Kiev, provided that the latter accepts "a status of neutrality" that implies "the renunciation of deploying weapons on its territory", according to Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's spokesman, as quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax, The cancellation of meetings between Lavrov and Western leaders Antony Blinken and Jean-Yves Le Drian scheduled for this week, as well as the complete breakdown of Russian-Ukrainian diplomatic relations, appear to have marked the end of negotiations between Moscow and the allied powers.
Among the economic repercussions, the Russian offensive in Ukraine has caused world stock markets to plummet. While some stock market indices such as the American Wall Street, or the Spanish Ibex35, have fallen by 2% and 4.5%, respectively; the Russian MOEX index has plunged by more than 45%. In addition, the price of gas has soared by almost 60%, and oil has surpassed 100 dollars per barrel for the first time since 2014.
Against this backdrop of escalating violence, Ukrainian citizens have been caught in the middle of exchanges of bullets and missiles. The closure of the country's airspace has forced a large part of the Ukrainian population to try to flee the capital and the territories affected by the fighting via the roads. However, this has resulted in kilometres of traffic jams, endless queues at petrol stations and long hours of waiting in an attempt to get cash out of ATMs.
Faced with this situation, the European countries that share a border with Ukraine - including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - have already begun to prepare for what they expect to be a major influx of refugees.