Putin admits that the rebel regions of Ukraine are independent

Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two separate regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities on Monday, raising expectations in a crisis the West fears could unleash a major war.

In a lengthy televised address, Putin described Ukraine as an integral part of Russia’s history, said eastern Ukraine was an ancient Russian territory and that he was confident that the Russian people would support his decision.

Putin announced his decision in phone calls to the leaders of Germany and France, who expressed their disappointment, the Kremlin said, and was subsequently shown on state television to sign the decree.

Moscow’s move could torpedo a last-minute attempt to hold a summit with US President Joe Biden to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, and the ruble extended losses as Putin spoke out on the issue, dropping 3.3% on the day to 79.83 to the dollar.

Putin delivered a long televised address that ended with his announcement, delving into history away from the Ottoman Empire and as talking about tensions over NATO’s eastward expansion — a major irritant for Moscow in the current crisis.

“I consider it necessary to take a decision that should have been taken long ago – the immediate recognition of the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said.

He said earlier that “if Ukraine joined NATO, it would be a direct threat to Russia’s security.”

Putin has worked for years to restore Russia’s post-Soviet influence, with Ukraine occupying an important place in his ambitions.

Russia denies any plan to attack its neighbor, but has been quick to threaten unspecified “military-technical” action unless it receives comprehensive security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO.

Recognizing rebel-held areas could pave the way for Moscow to openly send military forces into the two breakaway regions – Donetsk and Luhansk – and argue that it is intervening as an ally to protect them from Ukraine.

Russian parliament member and former political leader in Donetsk, Alexander Borodai, said the separatists would then look to Russia for help in seizing parts of the two regions still under the control of Ukrainian forces.

(Reuters)

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