After recognising rebel regions, Putin sends Russian soldiers to Ukraine.

After recognising two separatist areas in eastern Ukraine as autonomous, Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised the deployment of soldiers, speeding up a situation that the West worries may escalate into a catastrophic conflict.

Tanks and other military gear were observed moving into the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, according to reports, after Putin signed a proclamation recognising the breakaway areas and instructing Russia’s defence ministry to send in soldiers to “maintain the peace.”

Although it was unclear if the steps were Putin’s first big step toward a full-scale attack in Ukraine, which Western nations have warned about for weeks, the moves sparked condemnation and threats of further penalties from the US and Europe. Putin did not specify the amount of the army he would send, but the directive stated that Russia now has the authority to create military bases in the separatist territories.

Putin identified Ukraine as a vital part of Russia’s history and said that eastern Ukraine was ancient Russian territory in a lengthy televised address full of grievances against the West.

Putin, accompanied by separatist leaders backed by Russia, signed a decree recognising the independence of the two Ukrainian breakaway regions – the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic – as well as agreements on cooperation and friendship, according to Russian state television.

Putin confirmed his intention earlier in phone calls to the leaders of Germany and France, defying Western cautions against such a step, according to the Kremlin. Moscow’s move might jeopardise a last-minute meeting between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, which is now in doubt.

In a speech to the country delivered early Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who got a support call from Biden, accused Russia of sabotaging peace talks and ruled out territorial compromises.

Biden, who also met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, swiftly issued an executive order halting any US commercial participation in the breakaway territories and prohibiting the import of all items from those regions.

The steps, according to White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, are distinct from the penalties that the US and its partners have prepared in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The presidential action is “intended to prevent Russia from benefitting from this flagrant breach of international law,” according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Germany, France, and the United States have decided to retaliate with penalties, according to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesperson, while British Foreign Minister Liz Truss indicated further measures will be announced on Tuesday. Russia is “trying to build a pretext” for a new invasion, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. In 2014, Ukraine’s Crimea was seized by Russia.

Putin covered topics as far back as the Ottoman Empire and as current as NATO’s eastward expansion in his speech. Kyiv and NATO nations have consistently refused his demands that Ukraine abandon its long-term objective of joining the Atlantic defence alliance. …

Putin brushed aside Western cautions with his decision to recognise the separatist territories. “I believe it is important to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago – to recognise the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic’s independence and sovereignty,” Putin stated.

Because it is an unambiguous rejection of a seven-year-old truce negotiated by France and Germany, recognition of separatist-held territories would constrain diplomatic options for avoiding conflict. These events follow a pattern foreseen by Western countries, who have accused Russia of plotting to invent a pretext to invade by blaming Kyiv for assaults and relying on separatist proxies’ requests for assistance.

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