Moscow- Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics.
Putin made the announcement live on television after an an emotional address in which he referred to eastern Ukraine as “ancient Russian lands” and said it was “managed by foreign powers”.
"I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago - to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic," he said.
Announcing his recognition, Putin signed treaties on friendship, cooperation and mutual aid with Donetsk leader Denis Pushilin and Lugansk leader Leonid Pasechnik.
Putin also told Russia's defense ministry to deploy troops into the two regions to "keep the peace" in a decree issued shortly after announcing his recognition of their independence from Ukraine.
The decree said Russia now had the right to build military bases in the breakaway regions and that troops' mission would be to uphold the peace.
In a lengthy televised address, Putin described Ukraine as an integral part of Russia's history and said he was confident the Russian people would support his decision.
He also vented his grievances against the West, saying the recognition was a direct result of the failure of the 2014 Minsk agreements designed to put an end to a protracted fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia forces.
The Russian leader took a swipe as Western powers which support Ukraine, saying "they are not interested in peaceful solutions – they want to start a blitzkrieg”.
"Every day they are amassing troops in the Donbas.”
Putin also accused Ukraine of “extreme nationalism,” and “Russophobia”, saying Kiev was sending saboteurs to target Russian infrastructure and attempting to “drag foreign states into conflict with our country.”
He denounced Ukraine's ambitions to join NATO as an “immediate threat of attack” against his country.
Earlier, Ukraine rejected as “fake news” claim that Russia had killed five “saboteurs” attempting to cross into the country.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of continuing to fuel the conflict in eastern Ukraine and "trying to stage a pretext" for an invasion.
"I condemn Russia's decision to extend recognition to the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk People's Republic' and 'Lugansk People's Republic'," Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said European Union countries have agreed to impose a limited set of sanctions "targeting those who are responsible" for Russia's recognition of the breakaway regions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “I think it’s a very ill omen and a very dark sign."
British foreign minister Liz Truss said in a Twitter post that on Tuesday the government will announce new sanctions on Russia in response to Putin's decision.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's spokesman said Germany, France and the United States have agreed to respond to Russia's decision.
European financial markets tumbled at the signs of increased confrontation.
Biden to impose sanctions on breakaway regions
The US said it would soon issue an executive order prohibiting new investment, trade, and financing by Americans to, from, or in the two breakaway regions.
“We have anticipated a move like this from Russia and are ready to respond immediately,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psak said in a statement.
“To be clear: these measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine.”
Japan will likely join US-led sanctions on Russia, including a ban on chip and other key technology exports, should Putin order an invasion of Ukraine, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Russia's retaliatory measures
Putin shrugged off Western threats of sanctions, saying Russia "has every right to take retaliatory measures to ensure its own security".
"That is exactly what we will do," he said.
"They are trying to blackmail us again. They are threatening us again with sanctions, which, by the way, I think they will introduce anyway as Russia's sovereignty strengthens and the power of our armed forces grows. And a pretext for another sanctions attack will always be found or fabricated," he added.
Donetsk and Lugansk were turned into self-proclaimed republics by ethnic Russians in 2014. That led to a bloody conflict between the government forces and armed separatists.
Ukraine, as well as the European Union and the United States claim Russia has a hand in the conflict, which has killed more than 14,000 people so far. Moscow denies the allegation.
The armed conflict began when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Russia government and replaced it with a pro-West administration.
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