Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent Russian troops to Donetsk and Luhansk, after recognising the regions as independent states on Monday.
The crisis in Ukraine continues to escalate as Russian troops have now been sent into territory held by Ukrainian separatists.
In 2014, Russian-backed separatist groups in several regions of Ukraine with ethnically Russian majorities declared independence for their respective regions. One of those regions, Crimea, was quickly recognised as an independent nation by Russia. The Crimean separatists then held a referendum, deemed illegal and invalid by the UN, on a merger with Russia, which passed with overwhelming support and turnout from voters. Russia then enacted a merger with Crimea, described as an illegal annexation by the UN.
Two of the other separatist-controlled regions which declared independence in 2014 were the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. These regions, which together make up the Donbas region, have been a warzone for the past 8 years, between separatist forces and the Ukrainian military. Around 14,000 people are believed to have been killed as a result of the conflict. While the separatists controlling these regions have long been believed to be receiving Russian support, Russia has not recognised their independence – until now.
Last week the Russian State Duma voted to urge the Kremlin to recognise the independence of the breakaway states, and on Monday he obliged, despite desperate calls from Western officials not to lest he escalate tensions further. Putin then gave an hour long speech in which he questioned the validity of Ukraine’s statehood, accused Ukraine of stripping ethnic Russians within the Donbas regions of human rights, and accused the Ukrainian government of being a US puppet. Putin has continuously attempted to present Ukraine and its government as a mortal threat to both Russia and ethnic Russians living with East Ukraine, saying that Ukraine is “not interested in peaceful solutions – they want to start a Blitzkrieg”. Civilians in the Donbas region have been evacuating to Russia over the past week. Highlights from Putin’s speech follow:
“I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago – to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.”
“Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.”
“[The West only has] one goal – to restrain the development of Russia. And they will do it, as they did before. Even without any formal pretext at all. Just because we exist, and we will never compromise our sovereignty, national interests and our values. I want to say clearly and directly that in the current situation, when our proposals for an equal dialogue on fundamental issues have actually remained unanswered by the United States and NATO, when the level of threats to our country is increasing significantly, Russia has every right to take retaliatory measures to ensure its own security. That is exactly what we will do.”
The Russian, Luhansk, and Donetsk administrations quickly drew up a draft “friendship and co-operation treaty” – essentially a defensive agreement – giving Russia a legal technicality to go to war with Ukraine if they attempt to retake the Donbas region from what the Russian administration now considers sovereign nations and allies. Having drafted the treaty, the two newly recognised administrations immediately asked their new ally to send military support to their respective regions for “peacekeeping purposes”.
Further escalation is now increasingly likely, as, while the Kremlin only recognised the parts of Luhansk and Donestk currently held by the separatists as independent, the constitution of the newly recognised People’s Republics lay claim to land currently held by the Ukrainian military.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said of the recognition of Luhansk and Donestk as independent:
“Ukraine unequivocally qualifies the recent actions of the Russian Federation as a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state. All responsibility for the consequences of these decisions rests with Russia’s political leadership.”
Western nations and the UN immediately promised an array of sanctions to be enacted against Russia and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
At a speech in the UN, Kenyan envoy Martin Kimani gave a powerful speech denouncing Russia’s acts and comparing the past separation of Ukraine and Russia to the division of Africa; describing it as something that can give rise to something better:
“This situation echoes our own history. Kenya and almost every African country was birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant colonial metropolises of London, Paris and Lisbon, with no regard for the ancient nations which they cleaved apart. Today across the border of every single African country live our countrymen with whom we share deep historical, cultural and linguistic bonds. At independence had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later. Instead we agreed that we would settle for the borders that we inherited, but we would still pursue continental political economic and legal integration. Rather than form nations that looked ever backwards into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forwards to a greatness none of our many nations and peoples had ever known. … We chose to follow the rules of the United Nations charter – Not because our borders satisfied us, but because we wanted something greater, forged in peace.”
Boris Johnson said on Tuesday morning that Britain would soon announce its “first barrage” of sanctions against Russia after Putin “tore up” international law. The calibre of this “opening salvo” was revealed later in the Commons. The government intends to freeze the assets and investments of five Russian banks and three Russian billionaires. The plans were given the explicit support of the opposition by Labour leader Keir Starmer.
The targeted banks are:
- IS Bank
- General Bank
- Black Sea Bank
The billionaires targeted are allegedly close to Putin and hold major shares in Russian banks.
Russia’s market has already taken a hit as confidence in the economy drops in expectation of sanctions. For Western nations, the cost of oil and gas is expected to drastically rise, as Russia is the world’s second largest exporter. Oil has already hit a 7-year high this morning at £73 per barrel.
Boris told the House of Commons:
“We should steel ourselves for a protracted crisis.”
“We will not give up. We will continue to pursue a diplomatic solution until the last possible moment. But we have to face the possibility that none of our messages will be heeded.”
“I spoke to President Zelensky last night to assure him of Britain’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Now the UK and our allies will begin to impose the sanctions on Russia that we have already prepared.”
Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer said:
“Yesterday was a dark day for Europe. The Russian president denied the right of a sovereign nation to exist.”
“Putin appears determined to plunge Ukraine into a wider war.”
“We must all stand firm in our support for Ukraine. We support the freedom of her people and their right to determine their own future without the gun of an imperialist held to their head. There can be no excuses for Russia’s actions.”
Upon receiving news of the recognition, US President Joe Biden immediately issued an executive order prohibiting US investment in the breakaway regions. He is expected to further pressure Germany to cancel plans for the Nordstream 2 pipeline, possibly even offering US gas at a discounted rate.
Russian officials are seemingly unphased by the now inevitable sanctions. Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, said:
“They are already threatening us with all manner of sanctions or, as they say now, ‘the mother of all sanctions’.”
“Well, we’re used to it. We know that sanctions will be imposed anyway, in any case. With or without reason.”
President Erdoğan of Turkey, a country that usually enjoys good relations with both Ukraine and Russia, offered to mediate between the two countries.
Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukrainian Defence Minister, said:
“The Kremlin has taken another step to revive the Soviet Union”
“[Putin has shown his] real face … the face of a criminal who wants to hold the whole free world hostage.”
Mayor of Kiev Vitali Klitschko believes the worst has come to pass, saying this morning:
“Russia has declared war on Ukraine”