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# ukraine crisis
Vladimir Putin orders Russian troops into two rebel regions in Ukraine to 'maintain peace'
European Union leaders denounced Putin’s decision and warned the bloc will react with sanctions.

LAST UPDATE | Feb 21st 2022, 10:45 PM

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR Putin ordered Russian troops into two Moscow-backed rebel regions of Ukraine today, defying Western threats of sanctions in a move that could set off a potentially catastrophic war with Kyiv.

Earlier, the Kremlin leader had recognised the independence of two rebel-held areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, paving the way for an operation to deploy part of the potential invasion force he has massed around the country.

In two official decrees, Putin instructed the defence ministry to assume “the function of peacekeeping” in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. In the same documents, Putin also ordered his foreign ministry to “establish diplomatic relations” with the “republics”.

Moscow provided no details or date for any deployment, with the order saying only that it “comes into force from the day it was signed”.

Russia has in recent months moved tens of thousands of soldiers to regions near Ukraine’s borders, with the West saying Moscow plans to use them for an attack at any moment.

Putin’s recognition of the separatist republics as independent effectively buries a fragile peace agreement regulating the conflict in eastern Ukraine and opens the door for Russian military activities in the country.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kulebo this evening tweeted: “Ukraine has requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council due to Russia’s illegal actions. We have already sent the request to the Council.”

Earlier today, the Russian leader demanded that Kyiv halt all its military operations against pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine, or face more bloodshed.

“I believe it is necessary to take a long-overdue decision, to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic,” he said, before state television showed Putin signing mutual aid agreements with rebel leaders in the Kremlin.

The Kremlin earlier said that Putin was planning to recognise the two regions of Ukraine as independent. It said Putin had informed them of requests from authorities in the breakaway regions and from Russian lawmakers for Moscow to grant recognition.

“In the near future, the president plans to sign the order,” the statement said, adding that France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz “expressed disappointment” over the decision in the phone calls.

Putin had hours earlier presided over a long and carefully stage-managed meeting of his powerful Security Council, listening to senior officials say it was time for Russia to recognise the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic as independent.

“I have heard your opinions. The decision will be taken today,” he said after the meeting, which aired on state television for more than 90 minutes.

The recognition will effectively put an end to an already shaky peace plan in the separatist conflict, which has rumbled on since 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and has left more than 14,000 dead.

Russia could now move in troops to protect hundreds of thousands of residents in the regions who have been granted Russian passports, justifying an intervention as a defence of its citizens.

Ukraine would then either have to accept the loss of a huge chunk of territory, or face an armed conflict with its vastly more powerful neighbour.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had convened his own National Security and Defence Council after Putin spoke, and also held calls with Macron and Scholz.

The sudden and decisive move by Moscow overshadowed last-ditch diplomatic attempts to ease weeks of tensions over fears Russia has been planning an all-out invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

European leaders have been urging Putin to hold a summit with his US counterpart Joe Biden, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin in the security council meeting that he would meet his US counterpart on Thursday in Geneva.

EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel each tweeted: “The recognition of the two separatist territories in Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements.

“The EU and its partners will react with unity, firmness and with determination in solidarity with Ukraine,” they said.

In a joint statement, von der Leyen and Michel said: “The Union will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.”

In a statement this evening, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said Ireland is also backing the sanctions on Russia.

‘Very big threat’ to Russia

Putin made clear there was no room for further talks on the separatists, telling the security council there were “no prospects” for the 2015 Minsk peace accords aimed at resolving the Ukraine conflict.

He made clear the stakes were bigger than ex-Soviet Ukraine, whose efforts to join NATO and the European Union have deeply angered Moscow.

“The use of Ukraine as an instrument of confrontation with our country poses a serious, very big threat to us,” Putin said.

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

moscow-russia-21st-feb-2022-russias-president-vladimir-putin-holds-a-meeting-of-the-russian-security-council-at-moscows-kremlin-credit-alexei-nikolskyrussian-presidential-press-and-informatio Alamy Stock Photo Putin holds a meeting of the Russian Security Council at Moscow's Kremlin Alamy Stock Photo

Western leaders are warning that Russia is planning to invade its pro-Western neighbour after massing more than 150,000 troops on its borders, a claim Moscow has repeatedly denied.

Ukraine today requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to address the threat, citing security assurances it received in return for giving up its nuclear arsenal in 1994.

Announcing the request on Twitter, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba cited article six of the Budapest memorandum, the landmark 1994 deal also signed by Russia, the United States and Britain.

The tensions have spiked in recent days after an outbreak of heavy shellfire on Ukraine’s eastern frontline with the separatists and a series of reported incidents on the border with Russia.

In one of the most potentially dangerous, Moscow claimed — to furious Kyiv denials — that its forces had intercepted and killed five Ukrainian saboteurs who infiltrated Russian territory, and accused Ukraine of shelling a border post.

‘Crush them, harm them’

Kyiv, concerned that Russia is building a narrative to justify an invasion, immediately denied all the allegations, which are being widely broadcast on Russian state media, and Kuleba took to Twitter.

“No, Ukraine did NOT: attack Donetsk or Lugansk, send saboteurs or APCs (armoured personnel carriers) over the Russian border, shell Russian territory, shell Russian border crossing, conduct acts of sabotage,” he said.

“Ukraine also does NOT plan any such actions. Russia, stop your fake-producing factory now,” he wrote.

Also on today, local officials said shelling on the government-held village of Novoluganske, 35 kilometres north of the eastern rebel stronghold Donetsk, had killed a civilian there.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told NBC News that a Russian invasion of its neighbour would be an “extremely violent” operation followed by a brutal occupation.

“It will be a war waged by Russia on the Ukrainian people to repress them, to crush them, to harm them,” the White House official said.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said there was no sign of Russian forces withdrawing from the border and Moscow-backed rebels continued to shell Ukrainian positions.

In recent weeks, according to US intelligence, Moscow has massed an invasion force of troops, tanks, missile batteries and warships around Ukraine’s borders in Belarus, Russia, Crimea and the Black Sea.

Biden has said that US intelligence believes that Putin has made a decision to invade Ukraine and that commanders are readying units to attack within days.

Western powers have threatened a crippling sanctions package if Russia invades and shortly before Putin’s announcement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said sanctions would also be “on the table” if Russia recognised the separatists.

-© AFP, 2022

With reporting by Garreth MacNamee

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