Citing unsubstantiated reports about Ukraine's aggression, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Russian-occupied territories in Ukrainian Donbas as independent states.
Putin made the final call on Feb. 21, in a televised address hours after holding a Security Council meeting that discussed the matter. The council members unanimously spoke in favor of recognizing the occupied Ukrainian territories as independent states.
Russia's parliament will ratify the decision on Feb. 22, as well as an agreement of cooperation between Russia and the two "states" with centers in the Ukrainian cities Donetsk and Luhansk.
In a televised address that turned into a long anti-Ukraine rant, Putin talked about history, falsely claiming that “modern Ukraine was created by Russia” and parts of Russia were wrongly “given” to Ukraine during the Soviet times.
In the long address, Putin told his version of the history of the 20th century. He reiterated his view of the break-up of the Soviet Union as a tragedy, and belittled Ukraine, a nation of 40 million, as an artificially created state. He lamented the USSR giving too much freedom to the nations that were part of it, and allowing room for nationalism.
The speech incorporated many fake narratives that the Kremlin has pushed about Ukraine for years: from the non-existent repression of Russian speakers to Ukraine being under the unofficial control of the U.S.
Russia recognizing the occupied territories of eastern Ukraine as independent states goes against the Minsk Agreements, which demanded that Ukraine grants special status to the Russian-occupied territories after Kremlin and its proxies withdraw forces from the region.
Less than an hour before the Security Council meeting, heads of the Russian-controlled proxies asked the Kremlin to recognize their independence.
The decision comes amid heavy shelling of Donbas by Russian proxies, which killed five people and left tens injured over the past several days.
Putin concluded the address by calling on Kyiv to stop the supposed military offence against the occupied territories. Russian state media have been accusing Ukraine of the escalation in the Donbas without evidence.
Ukraine reported of dozens of shelling of Ukrainian forces positions and civilian villages by Russia-backed militants in the Donbas.
After the address, Putin signed the decrees recognizing the occupied areas of eastern Ukraine as independent states in the presence of the Kremlin-installed leaders of the occupied regions.
Security Council meeting
At the televised Security Council meeting, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that the decision to recognize the occupied territories was prepared long in advance.
Furthermore, journalists have identified that the time on Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu's watch was five hours behind at the session, meaning that it was pre-recorded. Previous messages of Russian proxies have also been allegedly pre-recorded, providing bases for the claims that the ongoing Russian escalation is well-planned in advance.
The council meeting continued with Russian officials providing baseless claims of "genocide" committed by Ukrainian authorities and alleging that Ukraine is preparing to attack the Russian-occupied regions.
"I would like to draw attention to (President Volodymyr) Zelensky's statement that they assume and would like to return the status of a nuclear country. This is extremely dangerous," said Shoygu.
Meanwhile, Dmitriy Medvedev, head of the Russian Security Council, said Russia must recognize the proxies to protect over 800,000 Russian citizens in the occupied areas. Russia has been giving out Russian passports to residents of the Kremlin-controlled territory for years using it as a reason for Russian involvement in Donbas.
On Feb. 17, Russian-led militants began shelling Ukrainian villages near the front line in eastern Donbas. Over 120 incidents of shelling were recorded within two days, according to the Ukrainian military forces.
The heaviest impact was seen in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Stanytsia Luhanska just next to Luhansk, a regional capital occupied by Russia since 2014.
A 122-millimeter shell hit a local kindergarten, leaving three staff members concussed. In the town of Vrubivka in Luhansk Oblast, another shell landed in a local schoolyard.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that civilians were the main targets of Russian attacks, calling such actions “a war crime.”
Valerii Zaluzhnyi, head of the Ukrainian army, on Feb. 18 called on residents of Russian-occupied regions not to believe the Kremlin proxies’ statements about Ukraine’s supposed invasion plans.
“I repeat once again — Ukraine doesn’t plan and doesn’t conduct offensive operations in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
According to the U.S., Russia has increased its military presence near Ukrainian frontiers to an all-time high.
“We assess that Russia probably has massed between 169,000-190,000 personnel in and near Ukraine as compared with about 100,000 on Jan. 30,” said Michael Carpenter, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE.