In a dramatic escalation in the ongoing Ukraine crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin on 21 February recognised the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered Russian forces in those territories for “peacekeeping” purposes.
In a televised address, Putin recognised the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic – which are globally considered as part of Ukraine’s sovereign territory – and added that “Ukraine has never had its own authentic statehood.”
Putin’s address also carried a warning for Ukraine, threatening a war if the country's forces did not stand down. He said “all the responsibility for the possible continuation of bloodshed will be completely and entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling Ukraine’s territory.”
For weeks, Putin has kept the world on its toes with some 150,000 Russian troops amassed at Ukraine’s border but has denied any plans to move into Ukraine. However, the formal recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk has triggered fears in the West of an imminent Russian invasion.
The formal recognition also prompted a chorus of condemnation from the West, with the United States (US) announcing sanctions on those regions, Germany halting the approval process of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) condemning Russia’s move, calling it a “violation of territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine” and “inconsistent with the principles of the UN Charter.”
Criticism of Russia also came from India, which at the UNSC meeting said that tensions along the border between Ukraine and Russia was a “matter of deep concern,” and that it had the potential to undermine peace and security in the region. However, India stopped short of condemning Putin’s statement or its actions without naming Russia at all.
In today’s episode, we will dive deep into the relevance of Donetsk and Luhansk and why Russia’s deems them independent.
To understand this, I spoke to former Indian ambassador to Russia DB Venkatesh Varma, who recently returned from Russia.