Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian “peacekeeping” troops to the pro-Kremlin regions of Luhansk and Donetsk after unilaterally declaring that the two chunks of Eastern Ukraine should be considered independent states.
The dramatic escalation, which many fear could lead to all-out war, followed an address to his nation on Monday, in which the Russian president formally announced “the immediate recognition” of the pro-Kremlin regions of Luhansk and Donetsk—which stretch over 6,500 miles—as independent of Ukraine.
In a decree released shortly after his speech, the president ordered Russia's defense ministry to “ensure ….. implementation by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation of functions to maintain peace on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic.” Reuters later reported that Putin had prepared treaties with leaders of the so-called independent states, granting Russia the right to build military bases therein.
Before his formal recognition of the break-away states, Putin had spent the better part of his address lambasting Ukraine, NATO, and the U.S. for failing to address “security threats” raised by the Kremlin in recent months. He baselessly accused Ukrainian forces of perpetuating “genocide” and blamed Kyiv for any future “continuation of bloodshed” in those regions.
“If Ukraine was to join NATO it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia,” the Russian leader said. He undermined Ukraine as a country that has “never had a tradition of genuine statehood,” accused the U.S. of “blackmailing” Russia with threats of sanctions, and warned of Western efforts “to try to convince us over and over again that NATO is a peace-loving and purely defensive alliance,” adding, “we know the real value of such words.”
Though Putin did not directly address growing fears that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine, he appeared to be laying the groundwork for war by characterizing a potential Russian military offensive as an act of self-defense. Moscow “has every right to take retaliatory measures to ensure its own security,” he said. That is exactly what we will do.”
The move follows a spectacularly bizarre meeting by Russia’s Security Council, where Putin appeared like a mob boss testing his underlings, as officials, one after another, spoke out in favor of recognizing the self-proclaimed republics.
It was another grotesque spectacle on a day when the drum beats of war grew deafening. The aggressive and totally unjustified territorial claim followed a series of apparent false-flag operations where the Russians tried to blame Ukrainian forces for a number of attacks.
The Russian military claimed that five so-called “saboteurs” were assassinated early Monday after crossing into Russia from Ukraine.
The report mirrors almost exactly what the Biden administration warned could be “false flags” or trigger points that Russia will respond to as a pretext to launch its invasion.
“As a result of clashes, five people who violated the Russian border from a group of saboteurs were killed,” the Russian military said in a statement, according to Reuters. No Russians died in the alleged border infraction. Russia also said Ukraine had destroyed a border outpost used by the FSB (Federal Security Service) in early morning shelling.
Russia has also claimed in recent days that Ukrainian forces are staging attacks on Luhansk and Donetsk.
Ukraine has denied any such incursion or attacks took place. The Minister of Foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, took to Twitter Monday to dismiss the claims with big red ‘X’s denying an attack on Donetsk or Luhansk, or that it sent saboteurs over the Russian border, or that it shelled Russian territory or border crossings.
After the latest round of supposed Ukrainian aggression, the leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics published video appeals pleading with Putin to recognize their independence, as they claimed Ukrainian forces were preparing to attack.
Despite a flurry of last-minute attempts at diplomacy—including talk of a summit between presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin—all hell seems soon to break loose in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address to the nation that the country was prepared for any outcome.
“We are committed to the peaceful and diplomatic path, we will follow it and only it,” he said. “But we are on our own land, we are not afraid of anything and anybody, we owe nothing to no one, and we will give nothing to no one.”
Referring not to Moscow but to the prospect of assistance from the West, he added, “It’s important right now to see who our true friends are.”
The U.N. Security Council met for an emergency session on Monday evening, with Ukraine’s envoy to the world body expressing frustration that no action would be taken. Russia, after all, has veto power on the Council.
“The United Nations is sick. That's a matter of fact. It’s been hit by the virus spread by Kremlin,” Sergiy Kyslytsya said.
Monday, Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan warned that Russia’s imminent attack on Ukraine will be “extremely violent” and that it could begin literally at any moment.
“We believe that any military operation of this size, scope and magnitude of what we believe the Russians are planning will be extremely violent,” he told NBC Today show on a frenzied circuit of morning TV on President’s Day. “It will cost the lives of Ukrainians and Russians, civilians and military personnel alike.”
He told the network that new intelligence garnered in recent days suggest “an even greater form of brutality because this will not simply be some conventional war between two armies.” He went on to say Russia will target the Ukrainian people “to repress them, to crush them, to harm them.”
He then appeared on ABC Good Morning America, telling them that “all signs look like President Putin and the Russians are proceeding with a plan to execute a major military invasion of Ukraine.” That plan was bolstered over the weekend with Russian military hardware painted with an ominous white “Z” lettering rolling toward strategic points along the Ukrainian frontier. “We have seen just in the last 24 hours further moves of Russian units to the border with no other good explanation other than they’re getting in position to attack.”
Over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron invited Biden and Putin to a summit, which Biden signaled he would attend on the condition that Russian not invade Ukraine, but the Kremlin called reports of any such meeting “premature.”
As Sullivan reiterated that any attack on Ukraine would be met with the “full force of American and Allied might,” unsubstantiated news reports of ceasefire infractions along the border continue unabated. Video posted on Twitter showed a fuel station burning on the front line in Eastern Ukraine as civilians fled against a backdrop of gunfire.
The European Union, which will feel the impact of an eventual war first-hand, approved an emergency package with $1.36 billion to support Ukraine through loans, according to a statement by the European Union Council released Monday. “It intends to provide swift support in a situation of acute crisis and to strengthen Ukraine’s resilience.”