MOSCOW/KYIV, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Russian forces fired missiles at several cities in Ukraine and landed troops on its coast on Thursday, officials and media said, after President Vladimir Putin authorised what he called a special military operation in the east.
Shortly after Putin spoke in a televised address on Russian state TV, explosions could be heard in the pre-dawn quiet of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
Gunfire rattled near the capital's main airport, the Interfax news agency said, and sirens were heard over the city.
Russian troops and tanks pushed into Ukraine and airstrikes hit the country's capital and more than a dozen other cities early Thursday after President Vladimir Putin said he ordered a military operation to "demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine" and bring its leaders to trial.
Ukrainian officials said an initial wave of strikes targeted military installations, airfields and government facilities across the country. Ukraine's border service said its troops came under attack all along the country's frontiers with Russia and Belarus as well as Crimea. Heavy shelling targeted the city of Mariupol on the Azov sea. Air-raid sirens sounded in Kyiv after 7 a.m. and the city's airport came under attack. Ukraine's military said it shot down five Russian warplanes and one helicopter. Russia denied any of its aircraft were hit.
Russia has begun attacking Ukraine, NATO officials confirmed. The late-night attack began moments after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he had "decided to conduct a special military operation" to protect eastern Ukraine's Donbas region. CBS News correspondents reported hearing loud blasts in the capital city, Kyiv, and in the eastern city of Kharkiv.
A Ukrainian government spokesperson said early Thursday that "cruise and ballistic missile strikes are underway at the control centers" in Kyiv.
Russian forces have launched a military assault on neighbouring Ukraine, crossing its borders and bombing military targets near big cities.
In a pre-dawn TV statement Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia did not plan to occupy Ukraine and demanded that its military lay down their arms.
Moments later, attacks were reported on Ukrainian military targets.
Ukraine said that "Putin has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine".
Russian military vehicles were said to have breached the border in a number of places, in the north, south and east, including from Belarus.
The United States, European Union and United Kingdom on Saturday agreed to put in place crippling sanctions on the Russian financial sector, including a block on its access to the global financial system and, for the first time, restrictions on its central bank in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine.
[...] Saturday's move includes cutting key Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial messaging system, which daily moves countless billions of dollars around more than 11,000 banks and other financial institutions around the world. The fine print of the sanctions was still being ironed out over the weekend, officials said, as they work to limit the impact of the restrictions on other economies and European purchases of Russian energy.
Allies on both sides of the Atlantic also considered the SWIFT option in 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine's Crimea and backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. Russia declared then that kicking it out of SWIFT would be equivalent to a declaration of war. The allies — criticized ever after for responding too weakly to Russia's 2014 aggression — shelved the idea. Russia since then has tried to develop its own financial transfer system, with limited success.