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Upping the ante in a crisis that could lead to an all-out war, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, 21 February, recognised two breakaway rebel regions – Donetsk and Luhansk – in eastern Ukraine as independent States.
Putin announced his decision in an emotional hour-long televised speech, attacking the West and calling Ukraine a United States colony with "a puppet regime", news agency ANI reported.
Notably, Putin has also instructed the Russian troops to assume "the function of peacekeeping" in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
The self-declared people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk host Russia-backed rebels who have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.
‘Ukraine of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’, Says Putin in His Emotional Speech
Questioning Ukraine's right to sovereignty and claiming that the West had spent years cheating Moscow, Putin said, "I believe it is necessary to take a long overdue decision, to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic," AFP reported.
Putin demanded Ukraine to end their military operations against pro-Moscow rebels in the eastern part of the country.
"We demand an immediate end to military operations," Putin said, accusing Kyiv of "trying to organise a blitzkrieg" in east Ukraine.
"Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of bloodshed will be fully on the conscience of the regime in power in Ukraine," he added.
Marked with several historical references, Putin claimed that "modern Ukraine was entirely and completely created by Russia," and should be called "Ukraine of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin".
Putin also claimed that the West "spat" on Russia's security concerns for years by "moving NATO eastwards and putting military infrastructure closer to Russia's borders," AFP reported.
France Calls For European Sanctions
Putin's announcement was naturally seen as a provocation, inviting condemnation and calls for sanctions from European nations.
US President Joe Biden had a call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a White House official said.
The leaders strongly condemned Putin’s decision to recognise the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as “independent" and discussed how they will continue to coordinate their response on the next steps, an official statement reads.
Further, French President Macron has called for "targeted European sanctions" against Russia and an emergency United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on Ukraine, news agency AFP reported.
‘We Owe Nothing to No One’: Ukrainian President
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Russia of wrecking peace talks and ruled out making any territorial concessions in an address to the nation in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Reuters reported.
Zelenskiy said, "We are committed to the peaceful and diplomatic path, we will follow it and only it...But we are on our own land, we are not afraid of anything and anybody, we owe nothing to no one, and we will give nothing to no one."
Expecting clear and effective steps of support, Zelenskiy added, "It is very important to see who is our real friend and partner, and who will continue to scare the Russian Federation with words."
Biden Prohibits New Investment in Breakaway States
Biden signed an Executive Order "blocking property on certain persons and prohibiting certain transactions with respect to continued Russian efforts to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine".
The order "prohibits new investment in so-called DNR or LNR regions of Ukraine or such other regions of Ukraine as may be determined by Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with Secretary of State (collectively, the “Covered Regions”), by a United States person, wherever located".
Moreover, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Russia's actions amounted to "a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine" that breaks international law, BBC reported.
Johnson added that it was "a very ill omen and a very dark sign". British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stated that the UK would announce new sanctions on Russia on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, as per senior US administration, US will "wait and see" the reaction to Putin’s order for Russian troops to act as "peacekeepers" in Donbass.
UN Security Council Holds Emergency Meeting
Underscoring the urgency, the UN Security Council set a rare nighttime emergency meeting on Monday at the request of Ukraine, the US, and other countries.
US Representative at UNSC meet stated:
"Russia's clear attack on Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty is unprovoked. It is an attack on Ukraine's status as a UN member state. It violates basic principles of international law."Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Representative at UNSC
She added, "This move by Russian President Putin is clearly the basis of Russia's attempt to create a pretext for the further invasion of Ukraine."
Warning of further sanctions, the US Rep said that further measures "to hold Russia accountable for clear violation of international law" will be taken on Tuesday, ANI reported.
"We and our partners are clear that there will be swift and severe response were Russia to further invade Ukraine. In this moment no one can stand on the sidelines," Greenfield added.
'Open to Diplomacy': Russia at UNSC
While addressing the UNSC meeting, Russia said that it remains "open to diplomacy for diplomatic solution".
However, Russia added, "Allowing bloodbath in Donbas is something we don’t intend to do. We are forced to note the negative role played by our western colleagues led by the US."
Responding to Russia, Sergiy Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian Ambassador to United Nations, stated, "We want peace and we are consistent in our actions…We are committed to a political and diplomatic settlement, we do not succumb to provocations."
Kyslytsya added that "the entire membership of the United Nations is under attack. Under attack by the country that occupied the membership of the Security Council in 1991 bypassing the UN charter. The country that occupied parts of Ukraine in 2014."
The Ukranian ambassador further demanded Russia to return to the table for negotiations and condemned the order to deploy additional Russian occupation troops in the territories of Ukraine.
The immediate and complete "verifiable withdrawal" of occupation troops was also demanded.
India Calls for Restraint on All Sides
Meanwhile, addressing the UNSC, India's Permanent Representative to United Nations, TS Tirumurti, said, "The escalation of tension along the border of Ukraine with the Russian Federation is a matter of deep concern. These developments have the potential to undermine peace and security of the region."
Stressing on the need for "diplomatic dialogue", India has called for restraint on all sides.
"We need to give space to recent initiatives undertaken by parties which seek to diffuse tensions," Tirumurti said.
Stating that the safety and security of civilians is essential, India reiterated that "more than 20,000 Indian students and nationals live and study in different parts of Ukraine, including in its border areas. The well-being of Indians is of priority to us".
India further emphasised on the need for all sides to maintain international peace and security by exercising "the utmost restraint and intensifying diplomatic efforts to ensure that a mutually amicable solution is arrived at the earliest."
(With inputs from AFP and ANI.)