Vladimir Putin: 'No Way' to Defend Russia Other Than Invading Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow had no alternative but to invade Ukraine in order for his country to defend itself.

"We had no other way of proceeding," Putin said, according to Agence France-Presse. During a televised meeting with business representatives, he added that "what was happening left us with no choice."

Putin also noted he does not want to harm the global economic system that Russia is a part of, adding that "it seems to me that our partners should understand this and not set themselves the task of pushing us out of this system." But Europe's main stock market closed sharply lower following the invasion of Ukraine. European energy prices soared, with benchmark Dutch gas futures increasing over 50 percent while Brent crude oil rose to over $105 per barrel, Bloomberg reported.

The attack on Ukraine began immediately after Putin made a televised speech Thursday at around 5 a.m. local time, during which he announced his decision to launch a "special military operation." He repeated a number of unfounded claims, alleging that the Ukrainian government was responsible for eight years of abuse and genocide and that his goal was the "denazification" and demilitarization of Ukraine.

During his speech, Putin issued a further warning. "Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so, to create threats for our country, for our people should know that Russia's response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history."

Within minutes of Putin's speech, explosions could be heard in Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv. Russian forces launched a series of missile attacks, including long-range artillery missiles in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border. Additional explosions were reported in the southern city of Odessa.

Videos showed a cruise missile hitting a military installation at the Ivano-Frankivsk Airport in western Ukraine. Soon after, several other airports were also hit in Kharkiv, Kulbakino, Kramatorsk, Chuhuiv, Chornobaivka and Ozerne. Several of the surrounding cities and areas reported substantial damage, but it appeared that Russia was mainly trying to target military bases, CNN reported.

Around 7 a.m., air raid sirens were heard across Kyiv, and roughly 45 minutes later sirens were going off in the western city of Lviv, CNN said. Residents started to flee, but there were long lines at gas stations and traffic came to a near standstill. People carrying bags and suitcases headed to train stations to try to buy tickets, while others tried to leave the country on foot.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law and said he had tried to reach Putin Wednesday but got no answer. He urged people to try to remain calm and remain at home if possible, CNN reported.

"Today, each of you should keep calm. Stay at home if you can. We are working. The army is working. The whole sector of defense and security is working," Zelenskyy said in a video statement.

Update 02/24/22, 1:30 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with more background and information.

Russia Invaded Ukraine to Defend Themselves
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday his country had no choice but to invade Ukraine in order to defend itself. Above, Putin at a Kremlin press conference on September 9, 2021. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images