Russia declares breakaway Ukraine regions “independent” republics

February 22, 2022 - 17:41

TEHRAN-Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed decrees recognizing the breakaway Ukraine regions and self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as independent territories. 

Until now Russia had viewed the Donbas region which makes up Donetsk and Lugansk as part of Ukraine’s east.

Donetsk and Lugansk declared themselves as republics in 2014 by ethnic Russians living in the region after a pro-Russian administration was replaced with a pro-western one. The move turned into a deadly conflict between Ukrainian government forces and armed pro-Russian separatists. 

The Russian leader said that the Minsk process which was aimed at keeping the peace on Russia’s border had failed and that the Ukrainian government is “not interested in peaceful solutions“. Moscow has accused Kiev of using the tension as a pretext to militarily take the Donbas region, saying this would lead to bloodshed. 

Over the past days people in the region have been fleeing to Russia in their droves amid reports of heavy shelling. 

Putin has now instructed the Russian Defense Ministry to send peacekeepers into Donbass, while telling the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to establish diplomatic relations. Putin said Moscow was sending troops into the territory “to keep the peace”. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he would not concede his country's land amid escalating tensions with Russia.

Despite months of predictions of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine by Western leaders, Zelensky addressed the nation saying “as soon as we see a change in the situation, as soon as we see an increase in risks, you will know all this, there is no reason for chaotic action. 

He also says “we believe there will be no war against Ukraine, and there will be no broad escalation on the part of the Russian Federation”.

U.S. and European countries have vowed to target Moscow with new sanctions.

The U.S. administration of Joe Biden says Moscow’s move did not trigger a broad package of sanctions that the U.S. and its allies had been working on if Russia invades Ukraine because Washington claims Russia already had troops in the Donbas region. 

This accusation has been repeatedly dismissed by the Kremlin since 2014. 

Instead the White House has announced separate, less severe and more targeted sanctions.

UK PM Boris Johnson says “we will immediately institute a package of economic sanctions. This is, I should stress, just the first barrage of UK economic sanctions against Russia” 

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has brushed off the threat of sanctions, describing the west’s actions as predictable. 

Lavrov says “our European, American, British colleagues will not stop and will not calm down until they have exhausted all their possibilities for the so-called ‘punishment of Russia’. They are already threatening us with all manner of sanctions or, as they say now, ‘the mother of all sanctions’. Well, we’re used to it. We know that sanctions will be imposed anyway, in any case. With or without reason”. 

There appears to be divisions between the UK and the EU over the expected presence of Russian troops in Donbas. The UK says its evidence the invasion of Ukraine has already begun, but the EU’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, voiced a more cautious tone “I wouldn’t say that is a fully-fledged invasion”.

Russia’s legislature is expected to confirm the Kremlin’s decision to recognise the self-proclaimed territories as independent states on Tuesday, paving the way for Russian peacekeeping troops to enter the region. 

It‘s not clear the size of the force that Moscow will dispatch and when they would travel to the breakaway regions. 

During an emergency UN Security Council session, Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya says "we remain open to diplomacy, however, allowing a new bloodbath in the Donbas is something we do not intend to do”. 

Critics accuse the U.S. of stoking the crisis as it failed to meet Russian security proposals at a time when Moscow was withdrawing troops from its border with Ukraine and Washington doing the opposite by sending more troops and weapons to Ukraine. 

Analysts also say the West has increased tensions with its warmongering rhetoric of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, claims that have been made time and again since late October last year. 

Speaking in a televised address to the nation, Putin explained "I believe it is necessary to take this long-overdue decision. I immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR)."

Later, Putin met with the DPR and LPR leaders and signed treaties on friendship, cooperation, and mutual aid between Russia and both territories.

Putin warned Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO poses a direct security threat to Russian territory saying "In NATO documents, our country is officially and directly declared the main threat to North Atlantic security. And Ukraine will serve as a forward springboard for the strike”.

He said Russia "has every right to take retaliatory measures to ensure its own security. That is exactly what we will do."

The recognition of the breakaway Ukrainian regions, eight years after Russian-speaking people there declared loyalty to Moscow, amounts to a declaration by Russia that it no longer considers the region to be part of Ukraine.

Putin said it was a long-overdue response to "those who embarked on the path of violence, bloodshed, lawlessness and did not recognize and do not recognize any other solution to the Donbas issue, except for the military one”. 

He demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities by Ukraine,
"Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine," he said.

The U.S. is portraying Russia as an enemy for the sole reason it does not want to see such a big country, the Russian President added. 

“Our political stance or something else does not matter. They simply do not want to see such a large and independent country as Russia" Putin noted.

Ukraine will serve as a NATO foothold for a strike against Russia, should it join the alliance, he warned.

"The U.S. strategic planning documents stipulate an option of the so-called preemptive strike on enemy’s missile systems. And we know who the main enemy for the U.S. and NATO is. It is Russia. NATO documents officially, straightforwardly declare Russia as the main threat to Euro-Atlantic security. And Ukraine will serve as a foothold for such a strike”

The Russian leader says the Ukrainian troop command and control systems are already directly integrated with NATO and the alliance has started exploiting Ukraine’s territory. 

“This means that the command of the Ukrainian armed forces and even separate formations and units can be directly exercised from NATO headquarters. The United States and NATO have already begun shamelessly exploiting Ukrainian territory as a theater of potential military operations" Putin said.

He also noted, "In recent months, Western weapons have been continuously flowing into Ukraine demonstratively as seen by the entire world... Regular joint drills [of Ukraine and NATO) have a clear anti-Russia bias”. 

He pointed out that "last year alone, they involved over 23,000 troops and more than 1,000 pieces of equipment. A law has already been adopted on admitting the armed forces of other states to Ukrainian territory in 2022 for participation in multinational drills”. 

Analysts say this crisis could have been avoided if NATO and the U.S. in particular did not pump weapons and send troops to Russian borders over the past months and instead given assurances to Moscow that NATO’s eastward expansion would not continue. 

Critics also say Washington is trying to damage Russia’s relations with Europe, especially energy cooperation between Moscow and Berlin. On Tuesday, Germany announced the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline certification.

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