VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV, YURAS KARMANOV and LORN KUK
MOSCOW (AP) – On Monday, it seemed that the long-feared Russian invasion of Ukraine was inevitable, when it had not yet begun, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the introduction of forces in the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.
A vaguely signed decree signed by Putin did not state whether troops were moving, and it said the order was an attempt to “maintain peace.” But it seems to have shattered faint hopes of preventing a major conflict in Europe that could cause mass casualties, energy shortages on the continent and economic chaos around the world.
Putin’s directive came hours after he recognized separatist areas as a chaotic, fact-ridden discourse on European history. The move paved the way for them to provide military support, confronting Western leaders who see the move as a violation of world order, and waged a frantic struggle on the part of the United States and others to respond.
Stressing urgency, the UN Security Council scheduled a rare night emergency meeting on Monday at the request of Ukraine, the United States and other countries. The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky tried to project calm, telling the country: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we will not give anything to anyone. “
The White House has ordered a ban on US investment and trade in the separatist regions, and additional measures were to be announced on Tuesday – possibly sanctions. These sanctions do not depend on what Washington has prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, according to a senior administration official, who informed reporters on condition of anonymity.
The events came amid escalating clashes in the eastern regions, which Western nations say Russia could use as a pretext to attack a Western-looking democracy that challenges Moscow’s attempts to return it to its orbit.
Putin justified his decision in a far-reaching, pre-recorded speech accusing NATO of the current crisis and calling the US-led alliance an existential threat to Russia. Covering more than a century of history, he portrayed today’s Ukraine as a modern construct inextricably linked to Russia. He accused that Ukraine inherited the historic lands of Russia and after the collapse of the Soviet Union was used by the West to deter Russia.
“I think it is necessary to make a long-overdue decision: to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said.
He then signed decrees recognizing the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts eight years after fighting broke out between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, and urged lawmakers to adopt measures paving the way for military support.
Until now, Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the separatists, but Moscow has denied this, saying the Russians who fought there were volunteers.
At a previous meeting of Putin’s Security Council, a stream of top officials called for recognition of regional independence. At one point, one waved and said he was in favor of including them in Russian territory, but Putin quickly corrected him.
Recognition of the independence of separatist regions is likely to be popular in Russia, where many share Putin’s worldview. Russian state media have published images of people in Donetsk setting off fireworks, waving large Russian flags and playing the Russian national anthem.
Ukrainians in Kiev, meanwhile, are blessed by this move.
“Why should Russia recognize (rebel-controlled regions)? If neighbors come to you and say, “This room will be ours,” are you interested in their opinion or not? This is your apartment, and it will always remain your apartment, ”said Maria Levchyshchyna, a 48-year-old painter from the Ukrainian capital. “Let them admit what they want. But, in my opinion, it can also provoke a war, because normal people will fight for their country. “
Approximately 150,000 Russian troops gathered on three sides of Ukraine warn that Moscow has already decided to invade. However, Biden and Putin had previously agreed to a meeting mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron in a last-ditch attempt to avoid war.
If Russia joins, the meeting will be suspended, but the prospect of a personal summit has revived diplomacy’s hopes of preventing a conflict that could lead to mass casualties and enormous economic damage across Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy.
Russia says it wants assurances from the West that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members – and Putin said Monday that a simple moratorium on Ukraine’s accession would not be enough. Moscow has also demanded that the alliance stop deploying weapons in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe, demands that the West has categorically rejected.
Macron’s office said the two leaders had “adopted the principle of such a summit”, followed by a broader meeting of other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe”.
Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration has always been ready to talk to prevent war, but was also ready to respond to any attack.
Putin’s announcement shattered a peace deal signed in Minsk in 2015 that required Ukrainian authorities to offer rebellious regions broad self-government, which was a major diplomatic coup for Moscow.
This deal caused outrage among many in Ukraine, who saw it as capitulation, a blow to the country’s integrity and betrayal of national interests. Putin and other officials on Monday claimed that Ukrainian authorities had shown no appetite for its implementation.
More than 14,000 people have been killed since the 2014 conflict in the country’s eastern industrial center, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Potential outbreaks have increased. Prolonged shelling continued along Monday along a tense line of contact separating enemy forces. Unusually, Russia said it had repulsed an “invasion” from Ukraine that Ukrainian officials had denied. And Russia has decided to extend military exercises in Belarus, which could become a platform for an attack on the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Ukraine and separatist insurgents have exchanged responsibility for mass violations of the ceasefire: hundreds of explosions are recorded daily.
While separatists have accused Ukrainian forces of shelling residential areas, Associated Press reporters from several towns and villages in the Ukrainian-ruled area have not noticed a noticeable escalation on the Ukrainian side and documented signs of intensified shelling by separatists who destroyed houses and tore roads.
Some residents of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk described sporadic shelling by Ukrainian forces, but they added that they were not on the same scale as before during the conflict.
On Monday, separatist authorities said that Ukrainian shelling had killed at least four civilians and injured several more in recent days. The Ukrainian military said two Ukrainian servicemen were killed last weekend and another was wounded on Monday.
Spokesman for the Ukrainian military Pavlo Kovalchuk insisted that Ukrainian forces did not respond to the fire.
In the village of Navagnatovka on the government-controlled side of Ukraine, 60-year-old Ekaterina Yevseyeva said the shelling was worse than in the midst of fighting at the beginning of the conflict.
“We are on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” she said in a trembling voice. “And there’s nowhere to run.”
As another alarming sign, the Russian military said it had killed five suspected “saboteurs” who had crossed from Ukraine to Russia’s Rostov region, destroyed two armored vehicles and captured a Ukrainian serviceman. Spokesman for the Ukrainian Border Guard Service Andrei Demchenko dismissed the statement as “misinformation.”
Amid heightened fears of an invasion, the US administration sent a letter to the UN human rights leadership claiming that Moscow had compiled a list of Ukrainians who would be killed or sent to camps after the invasion. The letter, first reported by the New York Times, was received by the AP.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the statement was a lie and no such list existed.
Karmanov reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Cook from Brussels. Lori Hinnant in Kiev; Angela Charlton in Paris; Zick Miller and Aamer Madhani in Munich, Germany; Geir Mulson in Berlin; and Eric Tucker, Ellen Nickmeyer, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.
Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis of the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine