In defiance of the West, Putin sends troops into separatist regions in eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces into two Moscow-backed rebel regions in Ukraine on Monday, defying Western threats of sanctions in a move that could spark a potentially disastrous war with Kiev.

Earlier, the Kremlin leader recognized the independence of two rebel-held regions of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, paving the way for an operation to spread part of the potential invasion force he has amassed across the country.

In two official decrees, Putin instructed the Defense Ministry to assume a “peacekeeping function” in separatist-controlled areas.

The recognition of the breakaway republics, which form an enclave controlled by Russian-backed rebels since 2014, drew international condemnation and a promise of targeted sanctions from the United States and the European Union — with a broader package of economic sanctions to come in the event of the invasion.

As news of the confession spread late into the night the streets of Kiev, many were in disbelief, but ready to defend their country if asked.

The scariest news in 8 years

“I am very shocked,” Artem Ivachenko, a 22-year-old cook from Donetsk, told AFP in the capital, calling the admission “the scariest news” since he fled the region eight years ago.

“I live here, I have already lost a part of my homeland, it has been taken away, so I will protect it.”

After a series of calls, US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that Moscow’s gambit “will not go unanswered.”

The United States announced its first sanctions, with the White House saying Biden would issue an executive order to “ban investment, trade, and new financing by Americans from, to, or in” the two rebel regions.

A French presidential official said the EU was preparing a list of Russian entities and individuals to sanction, in a “proportionate” response to the recognition.

In Kiev, President Volodymyr Zelensky held a meeting of his National Security Council and was scheduled to address later in the night.

Earlier, in an often angry patriotic speech televised for 65 minutes from his Kremlin office, Putin criticized the former Soviet neighbor Ukraine as a failed state and a “puppet” of the West, repeatedly referring to it as an essential part of Russia.

He accused the authorities in Kiev of persecuting Russian speakers and of preparing a “blitzkrieg” against the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.

“As for those who seized and retained power in Kiev, we demand an immediate cessation of their military operations,” Putin said.

Otherwise, the entire responsibility for the continued bloodshed rests entirely with the conscience of the ruling regime in Ukraine. ”

Putin said it was necessary to “take a long-overdue decision for the immediate recognition of the independence” of the two regions.

He then signed partnership agreements with the rebels that declared the presence of Russian military forces “necessary to maintain peace… and to ensure reliable security.”

EU ‘will respond with sanctions’

The recognition effectively puts an end to an already shaky peace plan in the separatist conflict, which has been going on since 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine, leaving more than 14,000 people dead.

Russia will now deploy forces with the support of separatist officials, and Ukraine will either have to accept the loss of a significant part of the territory or face an armed conflict against its much more powerful neighbor.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the move a “flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity”, Britain’s Cabinet Emergency Committee is due to meet on Tuesday and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss vowed to “impose new sanctions on Russia”.

European Union leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel promised that the bloc would “respond with imposing sanctions on those involved in this illegal act.”

The United States and its allies, including France, requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council later on Monday.

Putin told his Security Council earlier on Monday that there were “no prospects” for the 2015 Minsk peace accords aimed at resolving the Ukraine conflict.

‘A very big threat’ to Russia

He explained that the stakes were greater from Ukraine, whose efforts to join NATO and the European Union had angered Moscow deeply.

“Using Ukraine as an instrument of confrontation with our country constitutes a very serious and dangerous threat to us,” Putin said.

The dramatic meeting – with Putin sitting alone at a desk as his government, military and security leaders took turns addressing him from a podium – came after weeks of tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.

Western leaders warned that Russia was planning to invade its pro-Western neighbor after massing more than 150,000 troops on its border, a claim repeatedly denied by Moscow.

Tensions subsequently escalated in recent days after heavy fire broke out on Ukraine’s eastern front with separatists and a series of reported incidents on the border with Russia.

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s European Security Service reported on Monday that there were more than 3,000 new ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine the previous day, the highest level for this year.

Ukrainian officials said two soldiers and a civilian were killed in further shelling of frontline villages on Monday.


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