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Putin orders forces to ‘maintain peace’ in eastern Ukraine

Putin’s recognition of rebel regions triggered new sanction threats from the US and Europe



People from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the territory controlled by pro-Russia separatist governments in eastern Ukraine, get on a train to be taken to temporary residences in other regions of Russia. — AP
People from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the territory controlled by pro-Russia separatist governments in eastern Ukraine, get on a train to be taken to temporary residences in other regions of Russia. — AP
by

Anu Warrier

Published: Tue 22 Feb 2022, 2:27 AM

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin is ordering forces to maintain peace in eastern Ukraine. But it is not immediately clear whether or when troops would enter the country.

The announcement follows a day of fast-moving developments in which Putin announced the recognition of separatist regions in Ukraine. The United States and the European Union responded by saying they would impose sanctions.

Putin’s recognition of rebel regions triggered new sanction threats from the US and Europe and further fuelled fears that Russia could imminently invade Ukraine.

The carefully scripted Kremlin announcement flew in the face of European efforts for a diplomatic solution to the escalating crisis, which has brought East-West relations to a new low and jeopardised trade. US, British and EU officials called it a breach of international law.

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It also came amid a spike in skirmishes in the eastern regions that Western powers believe Russia could use as a pretext for an attack on the western-looking democracy that has defied Moscow’s attempts to pull it back into its orbit.

“I consider it necessary to take a long-overdue decision: To immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said.

Putin justified his decision in a far-reaching, pre-recorded speech blaming NATO for the current crisis and calling the US-led alliance an existential threat to Russia. Sweeping through more than a century of history, he painted today’s Ukraine as a modern construct that is inextricably linked to Russia. He charged that Ukraine had inherited Russia’s historic lands and after the Soviet collapse was used by the West to contain Russia.

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden “will soon issue an Executive Order that will prohibit new investment, trade, and financing” in the regions, or on anyone “determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine.” She said those measures would be separate from tougher sanctions the US is preparing in case of a Russian invasion.

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned the Russian decision and called for an immediate UN Security Council meeting and “targeted European sanctions”.

Until now, Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the separatists, but Moscow has denied that, saying that Russians who fought there were volunteers.

At an earlier meeting of Putin’s Security Council, a stream of top officials argued for recognising the regions’ independence. At one point, one slipped up and said he favoured including them as part of Russian territory — but Putin quickly corrected him.

Ukrainians in Kyiv, meanwhile, bristled at the move.

“Why should Russia recognize (the rebel-held regions)? If neighbours come to you and say, ‘This room will be ours,’ would you care about their opinion or not? It’s your flat, and it will be always your flat,” said Maria Levchyshchyna, a 48-year-old painter in the Ukrainian capital. “Let them recognize whatever they want. But in my view, it can also provoke a war, because normal people will fight for their country.”

With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, the U.S. has warned that Moscow has already decided to invade. Still, Biden and Putin tentatively agreed to a meeting brokered by Macron in a last-ditch effort to avoid war.


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