Dramatic escalation in Ukraine’s conflict: Russian President Vladimir Putin orders troops to be sent into the besieged east of the country. The units are supposed to guarantee “peace” in the “people’s republics of Luhansk and Donetsk”, which he had just recognized as independent states. This came from a decree signed by Putin in Moscow on Monday.
It was not initially clear when the soldiers would move into areas controlled by the pro-Russian separatists. An eyewitness reported that columns of military vehicles, including tanks, rolled into the streets of the outskirts of Donetsk. The United States and the European Union announced punitive measures.
US President Joe Biden spoke of a “quick and decisive” response to further Russian aggression against Ukraine. On Monday, the White House said, in a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden emphasized the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. “President Biden reiterated that the United States, in conjunction with its allies and partners, will respond swiftly and decisively to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the statement read.
Biden also spoke to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron by phone. Biden, Schulz and Macron discussed how they will continue to coordinate their response to next steps.
A ceasefire agreed years ago in Donetsk and Luhansk is no longer in place due to hundreds of violations, as Ukrainian government forces and Moscow-backed rebels are fighting there. According to Western information, Russia has collected about 150 thousand soldiers on the border with the neighboring country. Thus, an early advance into eastern Ukraine would be easily possible. Moscow for weeks denied Western fears that an invasion might be imminent.
The EU will also respond with sanctions, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel made clear in the evening. She added that punitive measures should be taken by those involved. Von der Leyen and Michel condemned Russia’s actions as “a flagrant violation of international law and the territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
The official decision on the announced EU sanctions against Russia is due to start on Tuesday. As the current French presidency of the EU Council announced overnight, there will be a meeting of permanent representatives of EU countries in Brussels at 9:30 am. The preparatory process for punitive measures must be completed. It can then be decided by the Council of Ministers. It is also possible to make a written decision. What exactly kind of penalties will be imposed initially has remained open.
As announced, Biden signed an executive order Monday night imposing sanctions. It prohibits doing business in or with the two breakaway regions, which are recognized by Russia. The White House said this would prevent all Americans from making new investments in the territories, regardless of their location. In addition, imports from the regions will be prohibited. According to a senior US government official, details will be released here on Tuesday. The official said President Biden has no intention of sending US troops to Ukraine yet.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also condemned Putin’s move, calling it a “blatant violation of international law” and spoke of a “flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity.”
With the purpose of fighting in Donbass, Putin called on the Ukrainian leadership to immediately cease fire in Ukraine. Otherwise, Kiev will bear full responsibility for this, he said. The head of the Kremlin also accused NATO of starting the “fatal seizure” of Ukraine. The West wants to open Ukraine as a “theatre for potential hostilities”.
Pro-Russian separatist leaders in the two regions had previously asked Putin to help fight Ukrainian government forces. According to United Nations estimates, more than 14,000 people have been killed in the eight-year conflict.
In the televised address, despite the lack of evidence, Putin spoke of a mass crime against people of Russian origin in eastern Ukraine. “The so-called civilized world prefers to ignore the Donbas genocide perpetrated by Kiev,” Putin said. Four million people are affected. The United States recently accused Russia of possibly wanting to use its accusation of genocide as a pretext for its invasion.
Putin also accused NATO of years of deception. When Germany was unified in Soviet times, Russia received promises that NATO would not expand a bit further east. “You betrayed us,” Putin said, accusing the Western alliance of having already gone through five waves of eastward expansion — and of treating Russia as an enemy. “Why all this? Asked Putin. He had recently warned several times against Ukraine joining NATO. This threatens Russia’s security.
Putin also warned of the possibility of manufacturing nuclear weapons in Ukraine. “Ukraine still possesses nuclear technologies and Soviet delivery systems for such weapons.”
Russia guaranteed the right to build military bases in the breakaway regions of Donbass. This stems from a published version of an agreement that Putin signed with representatives of the unilaterally proclaimed People’s Republics. Russia and the two breakaway regions also want to sign separate agreements on military cooperation. On Tuesday, the Russian parliament is scheduled to debate the relevant bill.
Separatist leader Denis Pushlin called the recognition a “historic moment”. This will “enter our lives forever and ever as a restoration of justice and truth,” he wrote Tuesday evening in the Telegram news channel. “The course of our future is set today, and we look to the future with confidence.” Putin’s decision is about more than just support. It is about “confidence in the peaceful future of a strong Russian Donbass,” Pushlin added.
The Kremlin had earlier dashed hopes of an early meeting between Putin and Biden on Monday. Whether he will reach it is doubtful. However, the United States will continue to pursue diplomacy “until the tanks roll,” according to Washington government circles. The foreign ministers of Russia and the United States want to meet in Geneva on Thursday.
Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, said that Russia is aware that the move will have serious consequences in light of the sanctions threatened by the West. However, given the situation, there is no other option than to recognize the territories. The pressure on Russia will be unprecedented. The hope is that the conflict will subside after that.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which maintains a monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine, has also strongly condemned Russia’s recognition of the East Ukrainian People’s Republics declared by Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states. “Recognition will only lead to more tensions and will divide the people who live in these areas from the rest of their country, Ukraine,” the statement said. “This move is a violation of international law and the fundamental principles of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.” It also contradicts the 2015 Minsk peace plan for eastern Ukraine.
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