Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Feb. 21, 2022, he would make a decision “today” on recognizing the independence of east Ukraine’s rebel republics, after Russia’s top officials made impassioned speeches in favor of the move. Photo by ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images.
KYIV, Ukraine — After nearly eight years of undeclared war against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees on Monday, Feb. 21, recognizing Russian-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine as two independent states. Putin also authorized Russian military forces to openly deploy into Ukraine’s Donbas territories “for peacekeeping functions.”
Today’s developments have pushed Moscow’s ongoing military pressure against Ukraine to the absolute brink of all-out war. At this point, one military flare-up between Ukrainian and Russian regulars — whether in reality or as part of a Russian propaganda operation — would give Moscow a pretense to justify launching a full-scale invasion.
In a rambling, emotional, and at times spiteful speech that was full of false history (including diatribes about Bolshevik Russia), Putin challenged Ukraine’s right to sovereign statehood Monday evening. Putin’s declaration that Russia would recognize the occupied territories was a major move that drew immediate condemnation from Ukraine and the West. More troubling, however, were Putin’s statements that seemed to lay the groundwork for a full-blown offensive against Ukraine — possibly to dismember the country, or at the very least, to overthrow the government in Kyiv.
“Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia — more precisely, Bolshevik, communist Russia. This process began immediately after the revolution of 1917,” Putin said. “And now grateful descendants have demolished monuments to Lenin in Ukraine. This is what they call decommunization. Do you want decommunization? Well, that suits us just fine. But it is unnecessary, as they say, to stop halfway. We are ready to show you what real decommunisation means for Ukraine.”
In 2015, following Russia’s invasion of Ukrainian territory in Crimea and the eastern Donbas region, Ukraine implemented so-called decommunization laws to expunge the country of symbols of its Soviet past. Among the measures, all statues of Vladimir Lenin were taken down.
On social media, many Ukrainians equated Putin’s Monday speech to a declaration of war.
“Looks like a war,” prominent Ukrainian war reporter Sergiy Karazy wrote on Facebook.
Immediately after Putin’s speech, the White House announced new financial restrictions against the dual breakaway regions in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also condemned the move.
“This further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk Agreements, to which Russia is a party,” Stoltenberg said.
Throughout Saturday night, videos flooded onto social media channels purporting to show Russian armored units massing at various locations within only a few miles of Ukraine’s borders. Other videos show Iskander ballistic missile systems moving into areas within striking distance of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, adding to the already formidable shadow of missile threats that extends over much of Ukraine’s territory.
According to US intelligence assessments, Russia now has the weaponry and manpower in place to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at any time. In recent days, as fighting has flared in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas war zone, Russia has forward-positioned its offensive forces in attack positions just a few miles from Ukraine’s borders. An attack could now come at any time, and Kyiv is a likely target, US officials say. The ultimate goal of such a wide-scale attack would be to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and establish a Kremlin-friendly puppet regime.
The US government also recently reported that Russia’s invasion plan will include a pogrom to assassinate and imprison prominent Ukrainians and other opposition figures who might resist a puppet regime installed in Kyiv by Moscow in the aftermath of an invasion.
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