Russia-Ukraine live updates: Moscow orders troops in breakaway regions

Credit…Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday delivered a moving and heartbreaking speech claiming the whole of Ukraine as a “Russian-made” country, recognizing the independence of two Russian-backed territories in the east of Ukraine and threatening the Ukrainian government that the bloodshed could continue.

The White House responded by saying President Biden would begin imposing limited economic sanctions on the two breakaway regions, refraining from imposing sanctions directly on Russia at this time, but vowing that more would come. European Union leaders also condemned Putin’s decision and said they would impose sanctions on those involved.

Immediately after the speech, state television showed Mr Putin in the Kremlin signing decrees recognizing the so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which were created after Russia fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Putin also signed “friendship and mutual assistance treaties”, which raises the possibility that Russia could move some of the forces it has accumulated around the borders of the Ukraine to these territories.

Mr Putin’s speech laid out such a broad case against Ukraine – portraying his pro-Western government as a serious threat to Russia and the Russians – that he seemed to be laying the groundwork for taking action beyond the simple recognition of two small breakaway republics.

“As for those who captured and maintain power in Kiev: we demand that they immediately cease military action,” Putin said at the end of his nearly hour-long speech, referring to the Ukrainian capital. “Otherwise, the entire responsibility for the possibility of continued bloodshed will lie fully and entirely with the conscience of the regime that rules the territory of Ukraine.”

It was a thinly veiled threat to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, which denies responsibility for the escalating shelling on the front line between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in recent days. Russian state television aired numerous reports claiming that Ukraine was planning an offensive against breakaway territories – claims that Kyiv denies.

In seeking to redraw Europe’s post-Cold War borders and bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit, Mr Putin is attempting nothing less than to overthrow the security structure that has helped maintain an uneasy peace on the continent over the past three decades.

Mr Putin’s speech began with a long recitation of his historical grievances, beginning with claims that Ukraine owes its statehood to the Soviet Union.

“Modern Ukraine was entirely and completely created by Russia, Bolshevik, Communist Russia to be precise”, he said.

Not only was Ukraine rejecting its shared past with Russia, he said, but it was allowing the ambitious United States to weaken Russia by aspiring to membership in the NATO alliance.

“Why was it necessary to make us an enemy?” Mr Putin said, reiterating his longstanding grievances over NATO’s eastward expansion. “They didn’t want a country as big and independent as Russia. Therein lies the answer to all questions.

Beyond his intensive history lesson – which would be disputed by many Ukrainians, who see themselves as a separate country with their own identity – the Russian president has said little about his next steps. And he did not address the fact that the separatist “people’s republics” claim about three times more territory than they currently control.

Some analysts have speculated that Mr Putin could use Russian troops to capture more Ukrainian territory on behalf of these republics. But his veiled threat to Kiev seemed to indicate that he was ready to directly threaten Mr. Zelensky’s government – a scenario that US officials say is a possibility given the size of Mr. Putin’s troops in the north, at eastern and southern Ukraine.

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