The Russian military and their Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republic allies began a large-scale military operation aimed at demilitarising Ukraine last Thursday. The operation began after weeks of escalating shelling, mortar, sniper and sabotage attacks by the Ukrainian armed forces and ultra-nationalist volunteer battalions in the Donbass.

The main goal of the Russian military operation in Ukraine is the defence of the country against a military threat created by the West, and Russian forces will continue the mission until they reach their stated aims of demilitarising and denazifying the country, defence minister Sergei Shoigu has said.

Speaking at a briefing Tuesday, Shoigu said that the Russian military was not out to "occupy" Ukrainian territory, and emphasised that troops were doing everything possible to preserve the lives of civilians, including by limiting strikes only to military objects using precision weapons.

"The main thing for us is to protect the Russian Federation from the military threat posed by Western countries, which are trying to use the Ukrainian people in their own battle against our country," he said.

Shoigu praised the armed forces for their "courage and heroism, and the conscientious and professional carrying out of their assigned tasks" in the course of the operation.

Unfortunately, the defence minister said, the Ukrainian side has shown in places that it has no qualms about using civilians as human shields, including by deploying artillery systems, heavy guns and large-calibre mortars near residential areas, schools and kindergartens.

Shoigu also announced plans to hold a 'First International Antifascist Congress' in August, with its goal being to "unite efforts of the international community in the fight against the ideology of Nazism, neo-Nazism in any form of its manifestation in the modern world".

Russia began a large-scale military operation in Ukraine on 24 February after receiving a request for assistance from the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics, which faced weeks of escalating Ukrainian shelling, mortar, sniper fire and sabotage attacks. Moscow took the unprecedented step of recognising the DPR and LPR as independent states on 21 February.

The dramatic situation in Ukraine is the culmination of a security crisis which began in 2014, when pro-Western political forces backed by Washington and Brussels overthrew the country's government in a coup and set a course to drag Kiev into the European Union and NATO. The coup prompted Crimea to break off from Kiev's control and rejoin Russia. In eastern Ukraine, the rise of fledgling pro-independence movements prompted Kiev to send troops to try to crush the resistance, sparking a years-long civil conflict. A Russian, French and German-led effort to end the conflict through the 2015 Minsk Peace Agreements failed to bear fruit, with successive Kiev governments refusing to provide the Donbass with constitutionally mandated autonomy in exchange for its peaceful reintegration into Ukrainian jurisdiction.