Putin orders troops into eastern Ukraine on ‘peacekeeping duties’

  2022-02-22 07:27      387 View Count        Comment

Vladimir Putin has ordered his military to enter the Russian-controlled areas of southeast Ukraine following a decision to recognise the territories as independent states.

The decision to dispatch his troops to perform “peacekeeping duties” will be viewed in Ukraine and by other western allies as an occupation of the region and likely trigger tough sanctions and a Ukrainian military response.

The deployment was revealed in the text of two treaty documents that Putin signed with the leaders of the separatist republics on Tuesday.

The third article of the treaties provided for the “implementation of peacekeeping functions by the armed forces of the Russian Federation” in the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, which Ukraine and most of the world views at its sovereign territory.

On Monday night Ukrainian officials said Russian troops may have already entered separatist territory. The officials said local people in the town of Makiivka, 15kms west of rebel-held Donetsk, saw what appeared to be Russian armoured vehicles on the move.

One source - who declined to be named - said “a huge convoy of Russian armoured personnel carriers and other equipment has been travelling for one and a half hours”. It was spotted heading north towards the city of Yasynuvata, also in the Donestk region.

Video released by Ukraine appeared to show a column of military vehicles moving in convoy along a road. The officials said it was not possible to tell if the troops belonged to the regular Russian army, or were from Russian-controlled separatist units.

In a televised address early on Tuesday morning, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of wrecking peace talks and ruled out making any territorial concessions. Zelenskiy said Ukraine was committed to peace and diplomacy and Ukraine was expecting “clear and effective” steps from its allies. “We are not afraid,” he said.

The decision to send in troops was revealed hours after Putin said he would recognise the Russian-controlled territories in southeast Ukraine as independent states in a pivotal decision that would scuttle an existing peace agreement.

Putin announced the decision in a televised speech marked by the Russian leader’s visceral anger at a country he has called a “brother nation”.

“Those who took the path of violence, bloodshed and lawlessness did not recognise and don’t recognise any other solution to the Donbas problem besides the military,” Putin said. “Therefore 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 Luhansk People’s Republic” – the Russian proxy states in east Ukraine.

State television then broadcast a short video showing Putin signing a presidential order to recognise the two Russian-backed states. The separatist leaders were also present.

A full-scale invasion of the country remains possible, using the estimated 190,000 troops that he has mustered near Ukraine’s borders.

Minutes after Putin finished speaking, the White House announced the prohibition of US investment in or trade with in the breakaway republics and potential sanctions against anyone operating within the Moscow-backed territories.

“We will also soon announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments,” the White House spokesperson, Jen Psaki, said.

A senior administration official said more US sanctions would be announced on Tuesday, and would be proportionate to Russian actions overnight.

“We’ll be watching very closely the actual actions that Russia takes,” the official said.

The UK said it will announce its own sanctions on Tuesday.

Joe Biden spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart during the second half of Putin’s rambling near hour-long address, before calling the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who had been trying to arrange a Biden-Putin summit.

France and Germany are both signatories to the Minsk agreements, a peace deal that will probably be abandoned as a result of the Russian decision.

Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, condemned Putin’s declaration. “This further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk agreements, to which Russia is a party,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

The EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel said: “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 determination in solidarity with Ukraine.”

The UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, said Putin’s decision to recognise the two separatist Ukrainian republics was “plainly in breach of international law. It is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine.” He also described it as an “ill omen” that things were moving in the wrong direction.

In his speech, Putin condemned Ukraine’s decision to move on from its Soviet past, painting the de-facto partition as his punishment. “Modern Ukraine was wholly and fully created by Bolshevik, communist Russia,” he said. “You want decommunisation? That suits us fine. But don’t stop halfway. We’re ready to show Ukraine what real decommunisation means for it.”

The announcement followed an extraordinary meeting of his security council broadcast on national television, where the Russian president said he would make a decision later on Monday after a choreographed back-and-forth with his top advisers designed to create public support for the decision.

“We’ve been negotiating for eight years,” Putin told his aides at one point during the security council meeting. “We’re at a dead end.”

In turn, each of Putin’s top advisers stood at a lectern and delivered a speech that ended in favour of recognising the separatist states in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which have been at war with Kyiv since 2014.

It ended in a made-for-TV cliffhanger. “I have heard your opinion. A decision will be made today,” Putin said.

Putin has instructed his subordinates to “maintain tensions” with the west as he seeks “security guarantees” that would in effect reconstitute a Russian sphere of influence in eastern Europe.

To that end, Russia has amassed up to 190,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, threatening a massive invasion that could target Kyiv and other cities, according to western officials.

The threat of official recognition for its two proxy states in Donetsk and Luhansk has also been a part of that pressure campaign. Russia has controlled and armed the two states since the outbreak of fighting in south-east Ukraine after a revolution in Kyiv in 2014 but wanted to keep them in Ukraine with the right to veto crucial decisions, such as membership of Nato.

Ukraine has said it will contest any decision by Russia to recognise the territories’ independence and would recognise the move as a Russian decision to exit the Minsk agreement.

After Putin’s speech, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said he had called for UN security council states to hold consultations under the Budapest memorandum to “discuss urgent actions aimed at de-escalation, as well as practical steps to guarantee the security of Ukraine”.

This likely sets the stage for a meeting of the security council where Ukraine can put its case to the world. Any of the members can request an urgent meeting, which has to be held within 24 hours of the formal demand going in.

Russia is the security council president and so may be able to control whether the meeting is closed or open. However, western member states that have been pushing hard for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis are likely to group together in a show of strength, one envoy said.

Ukraine’s former defence minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said any attempt by Russia to expand the territory controlled by pro-Moscow separatists would mean a full-scale war with Ukraine.

The historic borders of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions are much larger than the exiting pro-Moscow-run areas. Key Ukrainian cities include the port city of Mariupol, Kramatorsk – where Ukraine’s army has its eastern HQ – and numerous villages.

“Those regions are regular towns where people live regular lives. Any attempt to occupy those areas would be direct violent aggression by Russia on to Ukraine. There would be war,” Zagorodnyuk said.

(The Guardian/PUKNOW)



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