Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered to send troops into the Kremlin-occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, after officially recognizing them as independent states.
According to the decree signed by Putin on Feb. 21, the Kremlin has recognized the independence of the Russian-occupied Donbas and has ordered the Russian military to perform “peacekeeping functions” in the territories.
Putin’s move followed an hour-long address falsely claiming that “modern Ukraine was created by Russia” and parts of Russia were wrongly “given” to Ukraine during the Soviet times.
Amid Russia’s ongoing escalation, Ukraine requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council “due to Russia’s illegal actions,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter on Feb. 22.
Russia’s statement comes amid the record-high Russian military build-up in and around Ukraine.
“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.
U.S. President Joe Biden announced he would sign an order that will impose sanctions following Russia’s recognition of the occupied territories as independent states. These sanctions are separate from the “swift and severe economic measures” the West has been preparing should Russia further invade Ukraine.
“We have anticipated a move like this from Russia and are ready to respond immediately,” the White House said in a statement on Feb. 22.
NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the Kremlin’s decision to recognize the independence of Russian-occupied Donbas. Jens Stoltenberg said that the move further undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, violating the Minsk Agreements.
The second Minsk Agreements were signed after a Russian military offensive in February 2015, which forced Ukraine to agree to a document set to grant Russian-occupied Donbas a special status in return for Kyiv receiving control over its side of the border with Russia.
Meanwhile, government-controlled parts of Donbas were shelled by Russian-led militants.
Artillery attacks by Russian-led militants continued all along the front line. As many as 54 shelling incidents have been reported by Ukraine’s military on Feb. 21 as of 5 p.m.
Three people, among them two soldiers, were killed by Russia on Feb. 21.