Invasion Feared Imminent as Putin Recognizes Separatist States

Last week, the Russian parliament passed a resolution urging Putin to recognize the separatist states of Donetsk and Luhansk, both of which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014. Following a meeting with Russian military leaders on Monday, Vladimir Putin announced his decision to indeed recognize the breakaway regions. Following Putin’s decision, western leaders and intelligence agencies have warned that a formal Russian invasion of Ukraine could be “hours” away.

Each labelling themselves as a “People’s Republic”, Donetsk and Luhansk both declared independence from Ukraine in 2014. Both regions contained large numbers of ethnic Ukrainians prior to the split, though in both areas, residents primarily speak Russian. The Russian government previously sent unmarked military units to both regions around the time of the split, prompting sanctions and condemnation from western governments. The Russian government has continued to support the regions both economically and militarily since 2014.

An official recognition from Putin would violate international law, U.S. officials say. U.S. intelligence agencies have long contended that Russia will first stage a “false flag” attack on separatist regions, thus opening the door for a Russian invasion under the context of protecting the Russian-speaking population. Putin’s recognition of the states would also violate the 2015 Minsk agreement, which was negotiated by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. The resolution ultimately called for the re-integration of the regions back into Ukraine.

On Sunday, U.S. President Joe Biden agreed “in principle” to meet with Putin brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron. Biden had previously stated that he had “no intention” of meeting with Putin. On Monday, however, the Russian government said it would be “premature” to discuss such a summit at this time. If Putin proceeds with his decision, a meeting could be very much in doubt.

It appears increasingly likely that Russia will intervene militarily in the disputed regions. Earlier today, rebel leaders in the Donetsk region urged Moscow to intervene amid “worsening” shelling from Ukrainian forces. According to Interfax, Russian defense officials say five “saboteurs” were killed by border guards as they attempted to enter Russia’s territory. Russia’s military says Ukrainian army vehicles attempted to breach sovereign Russian territory, though Ukraine is disputing the entire narrative.

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In December, President Biden warned that if a Russian invasion of Ukraine moved forward, Putin would face economic consequences “like nothing he’s ever seen.” The U.S. later deployed around 3,000 extra troops to bases in Germany, Poland and Romania.

U.S. intelligence officials have stated that Russia could be “hours away” from an invasion, though Pentagon Pess Secretary John Kirby has said no American troops will participate in any conflict. “President Biden was very, very clear…there will not be American troops fighting inside Ukraine,” Kirby told MSNBC on Monday.

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Cullen McCue