Putin Orders Troops Into Ukraine; U.S. Calls Decision A 'Clear Attack On Sovereignty'
By RFE/RL February 22, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops into two separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine in a military escalation that Western leaders have warned could lead to massive consequences for Moscow.
Putin signed the decrees ordering the troop deployment on February 21 after announcing his decision to recognize the independence of the two regions, a move that was swiftly condemned by Western leaders fearful of major conflict on the European continent.
The decrees went into effect immediately.
Putin's escalatory steps come after he amassed more than 150,000 combat-ready forces on Ukraine's border, triggering months of intense diplomacy by the United States and Europe to deter the Russian leader from invading his smaller neighbor.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Putin's decision to recognize the regions a "clear attack on Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity" and said it "directly contradicts Russia's claimed commitment to diplomacy."
Putin's decision triggered another round of crisis calls among Western leaders.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with European counterparts, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the allied response.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he will meet with Blinken in Washington on February 22, seeking to push Washington toward tough sanctions against Moscow.
The White House announced it was imposing sanctions on trade and investment on the two regions and said more measures, including further economic penalties, would be announced on February 22.
However, the White House did not slap any immediate sanctions on Russia. A senior U.S. administration official speaking on background said the White House would study Russia's troops movements before making such a decision.
Russia had yet to move any of the 150,000 troops surrounding Ukraine into the two regions as of early morning on February 22.
The separatist leaders claim all of the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces as their borders, though they only control parts of them.
Putin did not state the boundaries of the two regions he was recognizing, a critical element that could determine whether the West imposes punishing sanctions on Russia.
The White House has repeatedly said it would slap severe economic penalties on Russia if it further invades Ukraine.
However, the senior U.S. official hinted that a deployment of Russian troops to the separatist-controlled regions might not be considered a further invasion, as Russian military personnel have been operating there for years.
Andrey Klimov, deputy chairman of Russia's upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, said Moscow would be recognizing just the areas held by the separatists. Andrey Rudenko, a Russian deputy foreign minister, also told the RIA Novosti news agency that Moscow's recognition refers to the territories that separatists control in the two regions.
Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on February 22 unanimously voted to approve friendship treaties with the territories. A vote in the upper chamber, the Federation Council, is also expected to take place on February 22.
Russia began to back separatists in eastern Ukraine following the overthrow of Kremlin-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014, supplying them with money, weapons, and troops.
The uprising failed to gain wide traction and fighting between the separatists and government forces has since grinded into a low-intensity war that has killed more than 13,200 people over the past eight years.
Ukraine and Russia have signed two agreements, known as the Minsk accords, that lay out a path to a peace settlement but have disagreed on their interpretation.
Russia wants the two regions to have vast autonomy, including veto power over Ukraine's foreign policy decisions, such as joining NATO, something Kyiv rejects.
After years of little progress on a peace settlement, Putin began in October to mass troops, machinery, and weapons on Ukraine's border in an attempt to coerce Kyiv and its Western backers to accept its security demands.
In his televised speech announcing the recognition of the two regions, Putin listed a litany of alleged grievances against the leadership in Kyiv, as well as NATO and the West.
Meanwhile, Russia said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was still prepared to hold talks with Blinken.
"Even during the most difficult moments...we say: We are ready for negotiations," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on February 22. "So, our position remains the same. We are ready for a negotiating process."
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. side on the planned meeting.
Lavrov and Blinken were scheduled to meet on February 24 in Geneva to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. U.S. officials said the meeting would only take place if Russia did not invade Ukraine.
Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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