Putin Sends Forces To Ukraine Regions Supported By Russia And Hints At Broader Military Objectives

In a confrontation with the West that threatens to grow into the largest military engagement in Europe since World War II, Putin’s measures were his most explicit yet.

President Vladimir V. Putin sent soldiers into separatist-held eastern Ukraine on Monday and hinted at a broader military assault in an angry and indignant address to his citizens in which he claimed all of Ukraine as a country “made by Russia.”

Mr. Putin was seen signing decrees recognizing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics after Russia fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. The orders, which were made public by the Kremlin, ordered the Russian Defense Ministry to send soldiers to such areas to perform “peacekeeping responsibilities.”

Mr. Putin’s action, which has commanded the world’s attention in recent weeks with a massive force buildup at Ukraine’s border, was the most explicit yet in a standoff that Western leaders fear might expand into Europe’s largest armed conflict since World War II.

Mr. Putin’s decision was a watershed moment in his eight-year policy of using the separatist enclaves that the Kremlin-sponsored with weaponry and money to exert pressure on Ukraine’s government without recognizing them as separate states.

But he kept the world guessing about his future moves, indicating in his hour-long address that his ambitions went beyond the enclaves. He made such a wide argument against Ukraine, characterizing its pro-Western administration as a grave threat to Russia and Russians, that it seemed as if he was laying the framework for further action against the nation.

Even though Russia has 190,000 troops around Ukraine, including allied separatist militants, he went so far as to call Ukraine’s elected pro-Western authorities stooges and accuse them of being aggressors.

“As for those who captured and are holding onto power in Kyiv, we demand that they immediately cease military action,” Mr. Putin said at the end of his speech, referring to Ukraine’s capital. “If not, the complete responsibility for the possibility of a continuation of bloodshed will be fully and wholly on the conscience of the regime ruling the territory of Ukraine.”

It was a poorly disguised warning to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, which denies responsibility for the recent escalation of shelling on the front line between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed rebels. Russia’s official television has aired many claims alleging, without proof, that Ukraine is planning an attack on separatist territory.

Mr. Zelensky talked with President Biden after the address and convened a meeting of his Security and Defense Council, later declaring that Ukraine is “not scared of anybody or anything.” Oleksiy Danilov, the council’s secretary, warned worried Ukrainians not to believe misinformation.

“A great powerful information provocation is being waged against our state,” Mr. Danilov said. “But it is necessary to trust only official information.”

Mr. Biden would implement penalties against people doing business in separatist regions, according to the White House, and it could happen as soon as Tuesday “announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.”

The European Union’s leaders criticized the recognition “in the strongest possible terms,” while a spokesperson for the UN secretary-general said it was “incompatible with the ideals” of the UN charter.

“This is clearly a unilateral violation of Russia’s international commitments and an attack on the sovereignty of Ukraine,” According to a statement from French President Emmanuel Macron, who talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin at 1 a.m. Moscow time on Monday in a frenzied diplomatic effort to end the issue.

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At an extraordinary U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday, the United States and its allies criticised Russia for its recognition of two separatist territories and deployment of Russian soldiers to them, calling it a flagrant violation of international law that threatens war.

The extraordinary late-night summit, which Ukraine had sought, swiftly devolved into a diplomatic condemnation of Russia.

“Russia’s clear attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unprovoked,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American U.N. ambassador, said. Ridiculing Mr. Putin’s assertion that Russian forces had been deployed as peacekeepers, she said: “This is nonsense. We know what they really are.”

Mr. Putin’s acceptance of the regions marks a significant shift in the Kremlin’s attitude toward Ukraine during the previous eight years. The Kremlin refused to acknowledge the breakaway republics’ independence when they were established in 2014, despite discreetly backing them militarily and offering Russian citizenship to their populations.

Analysts believe the goal was to exploit the ongoing war as a source of pressure on Kyiv, which signed peace accords in Minsk in 2015 that compelled Ukraine to provide the eastern regions special status. The agreements were never implemented, with differing interpretations in Kyiv and Moscow, and Mr. Putin stated on Monday that Ukraine had made it apparent that “it meant to do nothing” to execute them.

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

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