Putin orders ‘peacekeeping’ troops to Ukraine after recognizing breakaway regions

The White House, along with NATO members and the United Nations, condemned the moves by Russia. The Biden administration has announced limited sanctions, with more to come.

Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
TOPSHOT – Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council in Moscow on February 21, 2022.
Updated February 21, 2022 at 5:27 PM CT

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized two regions in Ukraine as independent and ordered Russian troops to conduct “peacekeeping” operations there, raising fears that Russia is paving the way for an attack.

The Biden administration announced that the U.S. will respond with limited economic sanctions, with more to follow on Tuesday.

Putin’s declaration named the two regions the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic. Both are unrecognized territories carved out by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine after fighting broke out there against Ukrainian government forces in 2014.

In a highly staged meeting earlier Monday, Putin met with members of his security council, who urged the president to take this action, citing Ukrainian intransigence on implementing the Minsk accords signed in 2015. That agreement set out a series of military and political steps designed to resolve the status of these two breakaway regions and end the conflict there.

The rebel leaders of the self-proclaimed republics urged Putin earlier on Monday to recognize their independence and provide security guarantees.

The announcement is a serious escalation that effectively kills the Minsk accords, which many have believed could help find a diplomatic way out of the current standoff. This move also could allow the Russian-backed separatists who run the regions to invite in Russian troops.

The U.S. has said Russia has amassed up to 190,000 troops on its border with Ukraine.

President Biden will issue an executive order to “prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine,” according to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki. The statement says that the order will allow for sanctions to be imposed on anyone violating the order and that the departments of State and Treasury will share more details shortly.

Psaki says the administration will have more announcements soon “related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments” that are separate from the economic consequences to be imposed if Russia invades Ukraine.

NATO countries promise sanctions

Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a call Monday afternoon and spoke for about 35 minutes, according to a White House official. The White House said that Biden had also convened a call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Putin called Scholz and Macron earlier Monday to announce that he would recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Berlin. Scholz said in a statement that he told Putin that any such move would amount to a one-sided breach of the Minsk agreements. The German chancellor also urged Putin to pull Russian troops from the Ukraine-Russia border to de-escalate tensions.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called the recognition of the territories “a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements.”

Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel said in a statement that the European Union will react with “sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.”

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Putin’s announcement “yet another indication that things are moving in the wrong direction in Ukraine,” the BBC reported. The U.K. will “continue to do everything we can to stand by the people of Ukraine,” he said, including preparing sanctions and fortifying NATO’s eastern flank.

Liz Truss, the U.K. foreign secretary, said Putin’s move signals “Russia’s decision to choose a path of confrontation over dialogue.”

“We will coordinate our response with Allies. We will not allow Russia’s violation of its international commitments to go unpunished,” Truss said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres considers Russia’s decision “to be a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” according to a U.N. statement. “The United Nations, in line with the relevant General Assembly resolutions, remains fully supportive of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders.”

Guterres urged all parties to focus on a cessation of hostilities, protecting civilians and “preventing any actions and statements that may further escalate the dangerous situation in and around Ukraine and prioritizing diplomacy to address all issues peacefully.”

A U.S. congressional delegation, recently returned from the Munich Security Conference, pledged support to Ukraine.

“We as a bipartisan delegation will bring home the same unity and resolve we have seen among our Atlantic allies against Russian aggression. We pledge to work toward whatever emergency supplemental legislation will best support our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine, and support freedom and safety around the world. No matter what happens in the coming days, we must assure that the dictator Putin and his corrupt oligarchs pay a devastating price for their decisions,” the delegation said in a statement.

Russia has claimed that the situation along the contact line in Donbas has been deteriorating in recent days. Putin has said that Ukraine is committing a “genocide” there and that he could send in troops to supposedly save its people. The U.S. has described these claims as a false-flag operation aimed at creating a pretext for an invasion.

White House says Russian troops in Donbas “would not itself be a new step”

The White House believes the order for Russian peacekeeping forces moving into the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine would not be a further invasion of Ukraine because it says that Russian troops have been in the region since 2014, despite denials from Moscow.

“Russian troops moving into the Donbas would not itself be a new step. Russia has had forces in the Donbas region for the last eight years,” a senior administration official told reporters on a briefing call Monday evening. “Their narrative has been that they do not. Our certain knowledge has been that they have.”

The official said the U.S. will take more actions on Tuesday, though the official would not elaborate on what those actions will be.

The official said that the U.S. views Russian aggression playing out as it has anticipated but said the U.S. pledges “to pursue diplomacy until the tanks roll.”

“Unfortunately, the sequence of events that Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken laid out at the U.N. Security Council appears to be proceeding exactly as we predicted,” the official said, referring to false-flag events, Putin’s security council meeting and the declaration of independent republics in eastern Ukraine.

“Just in the last hour, we’ve seen Russia order troops to deploy into the DPR and LPR for so-called ‘peacekeeping functions,’ ” the official said. “We have seen a number of actions that are clear Russian-backed pretexts for further invasion, like explosions at eastern Ukraine that just happened to have Russian state media covering them in the middle of the night. Or videos of alleged emergency evacuation calls, or so-called saboteurs, whose metadata show clearly they were created days before their release. These attempts at disinformation aren’t fooling anyone.”

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