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Putin recognizes independence of Ukrainian rebel regions, moving toward war

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Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced in a televised address that Russia will recognize the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine — defying Western governments and further escalating a situation that could erupt into war.

"I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago - to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic," Putin said, referring to areas where fighting has broken out between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Western officials have warned that Russia may use conflict in these regions as a pretext to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The announcement comes after Putin informed Germany and France of his decision, which was received with "disappointment," the Kremlin said Monday according to Reuters. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Putin's decision to recognize the two separatist regions in Ukraine was "plainly in breach of international law."

"It is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine,” Johnson added, according to the Guardian.

In a rambling, at times angry speech, Putin lamented the fall of the Soviet Union, twisted history, and essentially denied Ukraine's right to exist as a sovereign state.

"Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, Bolshevik, communist Russia," Putin inaccurately claimed, asserting that the country "never had a tradition of genuine statehood."

Putin characterized the current government of Ukraine as a corrupt oligarchy and accused western governments of supporting a violent coup d'état against the old pro-Russian government in 2014. He leveled numerous accusations against the Ukrainian government, claiming there is a "genocide" of Russian-speaking people taking place in Donetsk and Lugansk and that Ukraine is attempting to develop nuclear weapons that pose a threat to Russian national security. He further claimed that Russia has ancient connections to territory in eastern Ukraine and that the Russian-speaking people there support independence

The Russian president also alleged that attempts by Ukraine to join NATO pose a threat to Russian national security, and that the United States' threat of sanctions in response to an invasion of Ukraine were policies designed to "limit the development of Russia."

"Russia has the duty to take all necessary measures to protect our security, which is what we'll do," said Putin.

As Putin delivered that ominous message, an estimated 150,000 Russian troops have amassed on three sides of Ukraine's eastern border. President Joe Biden on Friday said he is "convinced" that Russia has already decided to invade, including an assault on Ukraine's capital Kyiv.

By recognizing two independent states in eastern Ukraine, Russia has created an excuse to deploy troops there. The separatists do not hold all of the territory they claim. Should they request assistance from the Russian military, Putin will claim an invasion is an intervention to protect independent Russian allies from Ukraine's alleged tyranny. Analysts expect Russia to send "peacekeeper" forces into the area, Axios reported.

Though Russia has repeatedly denied having a desire to invade, it has claimed Ukraine is preparing for a major military offensive in the east, which U.S. and Ukrainian officials say is not true. Russia claimed on Monday that it killed five Ukrainian troops crossing the border, which Ukraine denied and which the U.S. said was one of several "transparent, hackneyed plots to justify an invasion."

Following Putin's speech, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the United Nations security council to "discuss urgent actions aimed at de-escalation, as well as practical steps to guarantee the security of Ukraine."

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