Putin orders forces to Russian-backed regions of Ukraine and hints at broader military goals

MOSCOW – President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday ordered troops into separatist-held eastern Ukraine and hinted at the possibility of a broader military operation, delivering a speech full of moved and mourned for his nation, which claimed all of Ukraine as a country “created by Russia.”

After the speech, state television showed Putin at the Kremlin signing a decree recognizing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, established after Russia broke out a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Decrees published and directed by the Kremlin. The Russian Ministry of Defense deploys troops in those areas to perform a “peacekeeping function”.

The actions of Mr Putin, who have drawn the world’s attention with his massive deployment of troops along the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, are the most blatant in the confrontation that Western officials have seen. warned that it could escalate into the largest armed conflict in Europe since the end of World War. II.

It was a major decision for Putin, reversing his eight-year strategy of using Kremlin-backed breakaway regions with weapons and money as a means of pressuring the Ukrainian government. without recognizing them as completely independent from Ukraine.

But he continued to keep the world guessing about his next steps, while also signaling in an hour-long speech that his goals were well beyond the box. He makes a broad case against Ukraine – describing the country’s pro-Western government as a serious threat to Russia and the Russian people – he seems to lay the groundwork for action against the part. rest of the country.

He even went as far as to describe Ukraine’s elected pro-Western leaders as hardliners and see them as aggressors – even though Russia has 190,000 troops, including fellow separatist fighters. alliance, surrounding Ukraine.

“To those arrested and holding power in Kyiv, we demand an immediate cessation of military actions,” Putin said at the end of the call. speech, referring to the capital of Ukraine. “Otherwise, the full responsibility for the possibility of further bloodshed will rest entirely with the conscience of the regime that governs the territory of Ukraine.”

It is a thinly veiled threat against the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky, which denies that it is responsible for the escalating shelling on the front lines between Ukrainian forces and Russian-led separatists. support in recent days. Russian state television has broadcast extensive reports claiming, without evidence, that Ukraine is preparing an attack against the breakaway territories.

After the speech, Mr Zelensky spoke to President Biden and convened a meeting of his Security and Defense Council, and later said that Ukraine was “not afraid of anyone or anything”. The council’s secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, urged worried Ukrainians not to believe the rumours.

“A powerful information provocation is being carried out against our state,” Mr. “But it is necessary to trust only official information.”

The White House said Biden would impose sanctions on those doing business in breakaway regions, and would “soon announce additional measures related to this flagrant violation of national commitments.” Russia’s economy today”.

European Union leaders condemned the recognition “under the strongest possible terms”, and a spokesman for the United Nations Secretary-General said the move was “inappropriate” principles” of the Charter of the United Nations.

“This is clearly a unilateral violation of Russia’s international commitments and an attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty,” said the statement from French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke with Putin at 1 a.m. Moscow time on Monday in a diplomatic frenzy. to resolve the crisis.

Putin’s recognition of the territories represents a stark departure from the Kremlin’s approach to Ukraine over the past eight years. After the establishment of the breakaway republics in 2014, the Kremlin decided not to recognize their independence even as it quietly supported them militarily and granted Russian citizenship to their residents. .

The strategy, analysts say, is to use the unresolved conflict as a point of pressure on Kyiv, which signed a peace accord in Minsk in 2015, demanding special status from Ukraine. for the eastern regions. The accords were never implemented, with their interpretations very different in Kyiv and Moscow, and Mr. Putin on Monday said Ukraine had made it clear that “it intends to do nothing” to do it. they.

“How long can this tragedy continue?” Putin asked, repeating his false claims that Ukraine was waging a “genocide” against Russian-speaking people in the region. “How long can we continue to endure this?”

Putin’s speech began by recounting his historical grievances, beginning with the statement that Ukraine owes to the Soviet Union: “It is precisely modern-day Ukraine that was completely created by Russia – Bolsheviks Communist Russia. ”

Those are the arguments Mr. Putin has made before, but he delivered them in a nationally televised address on Monday night with a ferocity and sometimes fury that the president rarely has. demonstrated during his 21 years in power.

“You want to de-communalize?” Putin continued, referring to Ukraine’s attempt to take down statues of Lenin and other symbols of the Communist past. “We are ready to show you what de-communization really means for Ukraine.”

Putin continues to not only reject a shared past with Russia, but also facilitate the US ambition to weaken Russia by joining NATO membership. He repeated his previous claims that the United States has the ability to place missiles in Ukraine that can hit Moscow within minutes; Mr. Biden denied such plans. Mr. Putin even claimed that Ukraine could develop nuclear weapons, raising the specter of “weapons of mass destruction” in the neighboring country.

“Why is it necessary to eliminate our enemies?” Putin said, reiterating his longstanding grievances about NATO’s eastward expansion. “They don’t want an independent, large country like Russia. Here are the answers to all the questions. “

Apart from Mr. Putin’s profound history lesson – which will be disputed by many Ukrainians, who see them as a separate country with their own identity – the Russian president has said little about his next steps. For example, he fails to explain that the separatist “people’s republics” are claiming three times more territory than they currently control.

Some analysts have speculated that Mr. Putin could use the Russian military to capture more Ukrainian territory on behalf of those republics. But his threat to Kyiv at the end of his speech showed he was ready to fight Zelensky’s government directly. US officials say such an outcome is possible given the size of Putin’s army in the north, east and south of Ukraine, estimated at 150,000-190,000.

The recognition of separatist gangs is reminiscent of a similar tactic that Russia used in Georgia, which, like Ukraine, was promised NATO membership in 2008 but with no fixed schedule. The breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia engaged Georgia in fighting to restore its territory in 2008, and these regions fought back against the Georgians with Russian military support. They declared their independence and were recognized by Russia, which kept troops in both states.

Putin’s speech on Ukraine came after a day of carefully choreographed drama about the fate of the country and its 44 million people. Russian state television has carried extensive coverage of Ukrainian shelling on civilian targets in breakaway regions, which Ukraine has denied. The Russian military announced that it had destroyed five Ukrainian “saboteurs” who invaded Russian territory.

“I stress once again that the Ukrainian military is not planning any offensive action,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, told a news conference in Kyiv. “Nowhere. We support the return of our people and territory through political and diplomatic means.”

But Ukraine’s guarantees appear to be ignored in Moscow. Russian television has aired tapes of calls from the two leaders of the breakaway republics imploring Putin to recognize the independence of their territories.

The Kremlin then released more than an hour-long footage of Putin’s special Security Council meeting, in which senior officials took turns explaining why the president should recognize independence. of the republics. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin told Putin that the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank were ready to manage the impact of any Western sanctions.

“These risks have been addressed quite well,” Mr. Mishustin said.

Several officials told Putin he should go further, raising the possibility that the Kremlin is considering broader action. In his final remarks, Viktor V. Zolotov, Putin’s former bodyguard and head of Russia’s National Guard, hinted that the Kremlin needed more control over eastern Ukraine to get rid of those what they see as a threat due to the country’s pro-Western shift.

“We have no border with Ukraine – we have a border with the United States, because they are the owners of that country,” Zolotov said. “Of course we have to recognize republics, but I would say we have to go further to protect our country.”

“A decision will be made today,” Putin said at the end of that meeting, which thrilled his country and the world until he spoke on television a few hours later.

Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow, Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, Ukraine and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora from Kyiv, Andrew E. Kramer from Severodonetsk, Ukraine, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tagonrog, Russia, Michael D. Shear from Washington and Rick Gladstone from New York.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/world/europe/putin-ukraine-russia.html Putin orders forces to Russian-backed regions of Ukraine and hints at broader military goals

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