Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities on Monday, defying Western warnings against such a move and upping the ante in a crisis that many fear could unleash a major war.
In a lengthy televised address, Putin described Ukraine as an integral part of Russia’s history and said eastern Ukraine was ancient Russian lands and that he was confident the Russian people would support his decision.
Russian state television showed Putin, joined by Russia-backed separatist leaders, signing a decree recognising the independence of the two Ukrainian breakaway regions along with agreements on cooperation and friendship.
Putin had announced his decision in phone calls to the leaders of Germany and France earlier, both of whom voiced disappointment, the Kremlin said.
Moscow’s move may well torpedo a last-minute bid for a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine.
The rouble extended its losses as Putin spoke, at one point sliding beyond 80 per dollar.
In his address, Putin delved into history as far back as the Ottoman empire and as recent as the tensions over NATO’s eastward expansion – a key irritant for Moscow in the present crisis.
With his decision, Putin brushed off Western warnings that such a step would be illegal, would kill off peace negotiations and would trigger sanctions against Moscow.
“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 Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said.
He said earlier that “if Ukraine was to join NATO it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia.”
Putin has for years worked to restore Russia’s influence over nations that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Ukraine holding an important place in his ambitions.