Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent troops to eastern Ukraine, after recognising two breakaway regions as independent entities on Monday.
The move against Ukraine’s sovereignty puts the region one step closer to the brink of conflict, which the West has urgently tried to avoid in recent weeks through diplomatic talks and threats of sanctions.
After Putin ordered the defense ministry to send forces to “keep the peace,” tanks and other military equipment were seen rolling into the city of Donetsk, a separatist stronghold in Ukraine’s Donbass region.
Speaking with Reuters, an unnamed senior US official cautioned calling the current occupation a “further invasion,” saying Russia’s deployment of troops to breakaway regions does not constitute further invasion, and would therefore not result in the harshest sanctions. Rather, it could be a strategic next step in a broader military campaign, which could be launched at any moment.
- Read: US guarded on whether it considers Russia’s “peacekeeping” mission in Donbass an invasion
- Read: Ukraine-Russia crisis, Western leaders “convinced” Russia is ready to invade
- Read: Thai government may evacuate citizens from Ukraine amid tensions with Russia
- Read: Russia enters war games with Belarus as NATO nations rush to defuse conflict in Ukraine
Notably, Putin’s decree recognises the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic says Russia now has the right to build military bases in the rebellious regions.
Putin announced his decision in a televised address, in which he aired a long list of grievances against the West, claimed Ukraine integral to Russian history and declared eastern Ukraine ancient Russian lands. The separatists leaders of the rebel regions were seen in the Kremlin signing agreements of friendship and cooperation.
“I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago — to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.”
The Kremlin said Putin has earlier taken time to announce his decision to the heads of state in France and Germany via phone calls.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy responded with an address to the nation on Tuesday, saying he would not conceded territory to Russia, which he said had wrecked peace talks.
“We are on our land, we are not afraid of anything and anyone, we don’t owe anything to anyone, and we will not give away anything to anyone. And we are confident of this.”
Meanwhile, US President Biden signed an executive order banning all goods — if there are any — and halting all business activity in the region.
Anthony Blinked, US Secretary of State, explained the measures did not constitute sanctions, which the US is ready to impose if Russia launches an all out invasion of Ukraine.
“[The executive order] is designed to prevent Russia from profiting off of this blatant violation of international law.”
Russia is sure to feel the bite of new Western sanctions, as the US, France and Germany have all agreed to counteract the latest aggression with harsher Russian sanctions, and the UK to follow suit.
For its part, Russia has consistently denied it plans to attack its Eastern European neighbour, but it has instead threatened “military-technical” action if it doesn’t receive vast guarantees of security, including a promise from NATO that Ukraine will never join its ranks.
In his televised address, Putin appeared visibly angered as he recounted Russian history, and announced his decision to formally recognise the Ukraine’s breakaway regions, which had already been controlled by rebel and Russian troops in principle since his annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
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