MOSCOW – Russia announced on Tuesday that its recognition of the independence of the territories in eastern Ukraine extends to the territory currently occupied by Ukrainian forces, further raising rates amid fears from the West that a complete invasion of Ukraine is inevitable.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia recognized the independence of the rebel regions “within the limits that existed when they declared their independence” in 2014.

Ukrainian forces later regained control of much of both regions during a nearly eight-year conflict that killed more than 14,000 people.

The announcement came the day after Russia said it recognized independence, but did not say what it considered the borders of those areas. This move was widely seen in the West to herald a Russian invasion. In recent weeks, Russia has gathered about 150,000 troops near Ukraine, and Western leaders have warned that Moscow plans to attack.

Western leaders have condemned the move and said they are preparing to declare sanctions.

Late Monday, columns of armored vehicles were spotted in separatist-controlled areas. It was not immediately clear whether they were Russian.

Russian officials have not yet acknowledged the deployment of troops in the east of the rebels, but Vladislav Brig, a member of the local separatist council in Donetsk, told reporters that Russian troops had already entered, taking up positions in the north and west of the region.

Since the conflict erupted weeks after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Moscow of backing the separatists with troops and weapons, accusations it has denied, saying the Russians fought well in the east. Putin’s move on Monday formalizes Russia’s power in the regions and gives it freedom to place its forces there.

And Russia has set the stage for a swift move to secure its power in the regions on Tuesday through new legislation that will allow troops to be stationed there. The bills, which are rapidly passing through both chambers of the Russian parliament, provide for military ties, including the possible deployment of Russian military bases in separatist regions.

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky tried to project calm, telling the country in an address at night: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we will not give anything to anyone. ” His foreign minister, Dmitry Kuleba, will be in Washington on Tuesday to meet with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the State Department said.

“The Kremlin has acknowledged its own aggression against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov said on Twitter, describing Moscow’s move as a “new Berlin Wall” and calling on the West to impose sanctions on Russia as soon as possible.

The White House reacted quickly, issued an order banning US investment and trade in the separatist regions, and additional measures were to be announced on Tuesday – possible 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.

Other Western allies have also said they plan to declare sanctions.

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that Britain would also impose “immediate” economic sanctions against Russia, and warned that

Putin is seeking a “full-scale invasion of Ukraine … it would be absolutely catastrophic.”

Johnson said Putin “completely broke international law” and that British sanctions would be aimed not only at the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but also at “Russia’s economic interests as much as we can.”

EU foreign policy chief Joseph Barrel said that “Russian troops have entered the Donbass”, adding that “I would not say that (this) is a full-fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil” and the EU will decide on sanctions later on Tuesday.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Bashchak also said in a radio interview on Tuesday that he could confirm that Russian troops had entered the territory, describing it as a violation of Ukraine’s borders and international law.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday that China “will continue to engage with all parties”, continuing to evade commitments to support Russia despite close ties between Moscow and Beijing.

While Ukraine and the West have said that recognizing Russia’s rebel regions violates the 2015 peace agreement, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, has denied this, noting that Moscow is not a party to the Minsk agreements and saying it could still implemented if Ukraine wants.

The 2015 agreement, mediated by France and Germany and signed in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, required Ukraine to offer full self-government to the rebel regions as a result of a diplomatic coup for Russia following a series of Ukrainian military defeats. Many in Ukraine resented the deal as a betrayal of national interests and a blow to the country’s integrity, and its implementation stalled.

Putin announced the move in an hour-long televised speech, blaming the United States and its allies for the current crisis and describing Ukraine’s bid to join NATO as an existential challenge to Russia.

“Ukraine’s membership in NATO poses a direct threat to Russia’s security,” he said.

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.

Putin warned on Monday that the West’s rejection of Moscow’s demands gives Russia the right to take other steps to protect its security.

Continuing more than a century of history, Putin has portrayed today’s Ukraine as a modern construction that the West uses to deter Russia, despite inseparable ties to its neighbors.

In a sharp warning to Ukraine, the Russian leader accused her of unjustly inheriting Russia’s historic land handed over to her by communist leaders of the Soviet Union and mocked her efforts to get rid of the communist past as part of a so-called “decommunization” campaign.

“We are ready to show you what real decommunization would mean for Ukraine,” Putin added ominously, clearly signaling his readiness to make new land claims.

Approximately 150,000 Russian troops gathered on three sides of Ukraine warn that Moscow has already decided to invade. However, President Joe Biden and Putin had previously agreed to a meeting mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron in a last-ditch attempt to avoid war.

Macron’s office said Biden and Putin had “accepted the principle of such a summit”, followed by a broader meeting of other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe”.

If Russia joins, the meeting will be suspended, but the prospect of a personal summit has revived hopes in diplomacy to prevent a conflict that could devastate Ukraine and cause enormous economic damage to Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy.

Tensions continue to rise in eastern Ukraine, with new shelling reported along tense lines of insurgent clashes with Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainian military said that as a result of shelling over the past day, two Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 12 others were injured. He rejected insurgents’ claims of shelling of residential areas and insisted that Ukrainian forces did not respond to the fire.

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This was reported by Karmanov from Ukrainian Kiev. Angela Charlton in Paris; Jill Lawless in London, Lorn Cook in Brussels, Zick Miller and Aamer Madhani in Munich, Germany; Geir Mulson in Berlin; Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations, as well as Eric Tucker, Ellen Nickmeyer, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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