The decision comes amid fears of a worsening conflict in Ukraine’s war-torn east.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that Moscow has recognized the two self-declared breakaway Donbass republics in Ukraine’s east as sovereign nations, as a military standoff across the contact line continues to escalate.
Speaking as part of a televised address to the nation on Monday evening, Putin signed the decree, saying that “I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago to immediately recognize the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR) People’s Republics.” Lawmakers will now be asked to consider statements of friendship and support with the two regions.
The move, he said, was a direct result of the failure of the 2014 Minsk agreements, designed to put an end to fighting. “They are not interested in peaceful solutions – they want to start Blitzkreig,” he claimed. “Every day they are amassing troops in the Donbass,” Putin went on.
At the same time, he slammed Ukraine for “extreme nationalism,” “Nazism” and “Russophobia,” pointing to the shuttering of Russian-language news outlets and laws he said discriminate against Russian speakers.
The head of state also alleged that Kiev is sending saboteurs to target Russian infrastructure and attempting to “drag foreign states into conflict with our country.” Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO, he insisted, would mean an “immediate threat of attack against our country.”
Putin began the address by setting out his version of Ukrainian history and the former Soviet Republic’s ties to Russia.“Let me stress once again that Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an integral part of our own history, culture, and spiritual world,” he said, emphasizing that Ukrainians are “people Russians have blood and family ties with,” as well as friends, neighbors and colleagues.
Putin asserted that “modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia, or to be more exact, by Bolshevik Communist Russia.” According to him, “Lenin and his supporters did it in a crude way, alienating Russia’s historical territories. Millions of people living there weren’t asked at all.”
The Russian President pointed out that since the fall of the USSR, Kiev has turned its back on its role in the Soviet Union, toppling statues of leading Marxists. “If you want de–communization, we are happy with that. But don’t stop halfway – we are ready to show what de–communization really looks like,” he went on.
Moments before the speech aired, the Kremlin revealed that Putin had given notice to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that he intended to sign a decree recognizing the DPR and LPR “in the near future.” According to the official version of events, the two other world leaders “expressed their disappointment with this development,” but emphasized their willingness to maintain diplomatic efforts.
The announcement comes as forces loyal to the two breakaway regions and Kiev’s troops accuse each other of carrying out heavy shelling across the front lines. On Monday from Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, the leaders of the DPR and LPR, calling for Moscow’s backing for their independence. Putin chaired a televised meeting of the Russian Security Council to consider the request, in which he was urged by top officials to grant both regions recognition.
The two republics declared their autonomy from Kiev’s control in 2014, following the events of the Maidan, when violent street protests toppled the democratically elected government in Ukraine. However, until now, neither Russia nor any other UN member nation has recognized them as sovereign nations, and Moscow has backed the Minsk agreements designed to bring a diplomatic solution to the conflict and reconcile the Donbass with Kiev.
Last week, Putin urged the Ukrainian government to begin talks to put an end to the increasingly tense situation. “All Kiev needs to do is sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the Donbass and agree on political, military, economic, and humanitarian measures to end this conflict. The sooner this happens, the better,” he said on Friday.
Western leaders have been warning for months of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, and have said that Moscow could use “false flag” operations against the Donbass territories to justify sending its army in. Russia has repeatedly denied that it has any aggressive intentions, and has called for security agreements that would limit the expansion of NATO, the US-led military bloc, into Eastern Europe.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden announced that he had intelligence that had led him to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to attack, and that it would take place in the next several days. The Kremlin has consistently denied it is planning to launch an offensive, branding intelligence reports released by Washington as “hysteria.”
Over the past several weeks, Russian officials have been seeking assurances from the West that it says are designed at ensuring stability on the European continent. Putin said that these had been “rejected” and that “the level of threat for our country is becoming greater and greater.”
In the proposals, sent to Washington and NATO in December, Moscow called for a halt to the US-led military bloc’s expansion, limits on missile placement, and for current bloc members to renounce any military activity on the territory of Ukraine, as well as in other Eastern European, Transcaucasian, and Central Asian states.
Another clause also demanded that Kiev would never be admitted to NATO, which Russia has long stressed is a “red line.”
“Some NATO member states are concerned about Ukraine joining, and we have got signals from European capitals saying ‘What are you worried about, it won’t join NATO tomorrow’ – but what about the day after tomorrow? And the day after that?” he stressed.
Putin also confirmed “for the first time in public” that, in 2000, he had floated the idea of Russia joining NATO to then-President Bill Clinton during a visit to Moscow. According to him, the West has since created a vast political gulf to distance itself from Russia and undermined the relationship.