On Monday evening, after a meeting of the Russian National Security Council, Putin announced his country’s immediate recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics from Ukraine, and called on the Russian parliament to ratify the resolution.
On May 12, 2014, Donetsk and Luhansk declared their independence after most of the residents of the two provinces, located in the eastern Donbass basin, voted in a referendum in favor of secession from Ukraine.
And the immediate repercussions of the decision began to appear, as media reports said that columns of military vehicles, including tanks, entered in the early hours of Tuesday morning the outskirts of Donetsk, the capital of one of the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine.
The British newspaper, “Financial Times”, said that recognizing the two secessionist regions practically means eliminating hopes for a solution to the current crisis, and asked the following questions:
How will the West respond?
NATO and the European Union warned that recognizing the two breakaway regions would be a major escalation in the conflict between Moscow and Kiev, and a number of European officials called for the adoption of a package of sanctions against Russia.
Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the recognition of the two regions constituted a “flagrant violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” and a violation of international law.
However, the European Union, the United States and NATO all assert that significant sanctions will be imposed on Moscow in the event of an all-out military attack on Ukraine.
There is still no agreement on how to respond to the recognition of the two breakaway regions.
Why is this happening now?
Since Putin massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border, the West has warned that Donetsk and Lugansk could be used as a pretext for war, either by provoking Kiev to attack, or orchestrating a fake Kiev attack that would allow the war.
Russia denies its plans to invade, but has insisted on obtaining a number of security guarantees from the West, such as banning Ukraine from joining NATO and withdrawing NATO forces from eastern European countries.
Moscow has long viewed Donetsk and Lugansk as Ukraine’s insurance policy, and has demanded that their return to Ukraine be accompanied by a veto of key foreign policy decisions, notably Kiev’s request to join NATO, a red line for Moscow.
The “Financial Times” that Putin’s recognition of the two breakaway regions increases the risk of conflict with Kiev.
What does this move mean for diplomatic efforts?
Putin’s decision shows that he has lost faith in diplomatic efforts to avoid conflict with Ukraine, which have been led mainly in recent days by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The future of the two regions was seen as an important basis for reaching a compromise in the Ukraine crisis, and the decision to recognize Russia appears to end this possibility.
A member of Russia’s National Security Council and former President Dmitry Medvedev said he believed Russia should move forward regardless of the risks and repercussions of the conflict.
He added in the presence of Putin: “The scale of the potential conflict cannot be compared to what we faced in 2008 (during the Georgia war), but now we know what will happen. We have heard all the ideas of sanctions (that the West can impose on Moscow).”
“But we know how to handle this pressure,” he added.
Why is Moscow’s recognition important?
In the past, Moscow has preferred not to recognize the two regions, preferring to exercise indirect control and use them as leverage in its broader conflicts with Ukraine and the West.
Recognition is likely to lead to two main primary outcomes. First, the collapse of the Minsk Accords and hopes for a diplomatic solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Russian officials told Putin at the National Security Council meeting that they believe there is no prospect of the peace agreement being fully implemented, which means that it gives Moscow no choice but to take other measures, they said.
Secondly, the decision to recognize the two regions gives the Kremlin a justification for sending troops to them, which has already begun, and this would increase the risk of a full-fledged conflict between Moscow and Kiev.
An even bigger problem is that the leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk claim all of their Ukrainian provinces, and Russia has not indicated whether it recognizes its claims to the territories under Kiev’s control.