Putin declares Lugansk and Donetsk independent republics

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Russian President Vladimir Putin signs a decree recognizing two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine on February 21, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Moscow- Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing the breakaway regions of Lugansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine as independent republics.

Putin made the announcement on live TV after an emotional speech in which he described eastern Ukraine as “old Russian lands” and said it was “managed by foreign powers.”

“I consider it necessary to take a decision that should have been taken a long time ago – to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic,” he said.

Putin announced his recognition and signed treaties of friendship, cooperation and mutual aid with Donetsk leader Denis Pushilin and Lugansk leader Leonid Pasechnik.

Putin also called on Russia’s Defense Ministry to send troops to the two regions to “keep the peace” in a decree issued shortly after announcing his recognition of their independence from Ukraine.

The decree said that Russia now had the right to set up military bases in the breakaway regions and that the troops’ mission was to keep the peace.

In a lengthy televised address, Putin described Ukraine as an integral part of Russian history and said he was confident that the Russian people would support his decision.

He also vented his grievances to the West, saying the recognition was a direct result of the failure of the 2014 Minsk accords, which aimed to end protracted fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces.

The Russian leader took a swipe at Western powers supporting Ukraine, saying: “They are not interested in peaceful solutions – they want to start a blitzkrieg”.

“Every day they gather troops in the Donbas.”

Putin also accused Ukraine of “extreme nationalism” and “Russophobia.”

He condemned Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO as an “imminent threat of attack” against his country.

Earlier, Ukraine dismissed as “fake news” claims that Russia had killed five “saboteurs” trying to invade the country.

European condemnation

NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of further fueling the conflict in eastern Ukraine and “trying to create a pretext” for an invasion.

“I condemn Russia’s decision to extend recognition to the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic,'” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said European Union countries had agreed to impose a limited set of sanctions “targeting those responsible for Russia’s recognition of breakaway regions”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I think it’s a very bad omen and a very dark sign.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a Twitter post that the government would announce new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday in response to Putin’s decision.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman said Germany, France and the United States had agreed to respond to Russia’s decision.

European financial markets tumbled amid signs of mounting confrontation.

Biden imposes sanctions on breakaway regions

The US said it would soon issue an executive order banning new investment, trade and financing by Americans in, from or into the two breakaway regions.

“We anticipated such a move from Russia and stand ready to respond immediately,” White House press secretary Jen Psak said in a statement.

“To be clear, these measures are separate from, and would come in addition to, the swift and severe economic measures we have prepared in coordination with allies and partners should Russia invade Ukraine further.”

Japan is likely to join US-led sanctions against Russia, including an export ban on chips and other key technologies, should Putin order an invasion of Ukraine, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Russia’s retaliatory measures

Putin dismissed Western threats of sanctions, saying Russia has “every right to retaliate to ensure its own security.”

“That’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

“They’re trying to blackmail us again. They are again threatening us with sanctions, which I believe they will introduce anyway as Russia strengthens its sovereignty and the power of our armed forces increases. And a pretext for another sanctions attack will always be found or fabricated,” he added.

Donetsk and Lugansk were transformed into self-proclaimed republics by ethnic Russians in 2014. This led to a bloody conflict between government forces and armed separatists.

Ukraine, as well as the European Union and the United States, claim that Russia is involved in the conflict, which has killed more than 14,000 people so far. Moscow denies the allegation.

The armed conflict began when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically elected pro-Russian government and replaced it with a pro-Western government.

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