Vladimir Putin Calls on Ukraine Troops to Turn on Zelenskyy

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a direct appeal to Ukrainian troops, telling them to "take power into your own hands" as he called on them to overthrow the government in Kyiv.

In a televised address on Friday, Putin said it would be "easier for us to come to an agreement than with this gang of junkies and neo-Nazis" in a reference to the government in Kyiv which he added, "took the entire Ukrainian people hostage."

"Do not allow neo-Nazis", Putin said "to use your children, your wives and old people as human shields."

This sentiment echoes an earlier Russian military statement accusing Ukrainian forces of deploying heavy weapons in big cities, including Kyiv and Kharkiv, to use civilians as shields.

"They are acting like terrorists across the world, shielding behind people in order to accuse Russia of causing casualties among the peaceful population," Putin said.

His comments appear to be the first insight into his motive for invading Ukraine, which he initially claimed was a move to "de-militarize" the country.

After heavy bombing and fighting across the county, it signals that his intention is to overthrow the Ukrainian government, headed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Putin regularly uses the term "Neo-Nazis" to disparage the Ukrainian government. Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, has dismissed the term while Western countries also reject the claim as propaganda.

In Friday's address to the Russian Security Council, Putin said Kyiv-backed forces "have put up heavy armaments including multiple rocket launch systems."

"It is known for sure that all this is happening on recommendations from foreign consultants, American advisers above all."

He went on to praise Russian troops for acting in a "courageous and professional manner" and said that they were "successfully solving the most important task of ensuring the security of our people and our Fatherland."

Putin and Russian officials have said Russian forces are only targeting ultra-nationalists in Ukraine although many civilian casualties have been reported.

Meanwhile, more than 50,000 Ukrainian refugees have left the country over the last two days, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. Most of them were heading to Poland and Moldova, he tweeted.

Russian president Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 21, 2022. He has told Ukrainian military personnel not to allow "Neo Nazis" to use "children, your wives and elders as human shields.” ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Getty

Update 02/25/22, 1:00 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with further information.