MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized two Moscow-backed rebel regions of Ukraine as independent, in a move that could set off a potentially catastrophic war with Kyiv’s Western-backed government.
In an often angry 65-minute televised national address, Putin railed against Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor Ukraine as a failed state and “puppet” of the West, repeatedly suggesting that it is essentially part of Russia.
He accused authorities in Kyiv of persecuting Russian speakers and of preparing a “blitzkrieg” against the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in Ukraine’s east.
“As for those who seized and hold power in Kyiv, we demand an immediate end to their military operations,” Putin said.
“Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of bloodshed will be fully on the conscience of the regime in power in Ukraine.” Putin said it was necessary to “take a long-overdue decision, to immediately recognize the independence” of the two regions.
Immediately after the speech, state television showed him signing mutual aid agreements with rebel leaders in the Kremlin.
The recognition effectively puts an end to an already shaky peace plan in the separatist conflict, which has rumbled on since 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and has left more than 14,000 dead.
EU ‘will react with sanctions’
Russia could now move in troops at the request of separatist officials, or to protect hundreds of thousands of residents who have been granted Russian passports, justifying an intervention as a defence of its citizens.
Ukraine would then either have to accept the loss of a huge chunk of territory, or face an armed conflict against its vastly more powerful neighbour.
The move drew immediate condemnation from the West, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling it “a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of the Ukraine”.
EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel promised the bloc “will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.” Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg also condemned Putin’s move, saying it violates international agreements signed by Moscow.