Putin recognises independence of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, EU to react with sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) signs decrees on the recognition of separatists as the head of the Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin (centre) and the head of Luhansk People's Republic Leonid Pasechnik (left) attend on Feb 21, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW/BRUSSELS (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday (Feb 21) recognised the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine in an emotional address on state-run television, despite warnings from the West this could trigger sweeping sanctions.

“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,” he said.

State television then showed Putin signing mutual aid agreements with rebel leaders in the Kremlin.

At the end of an hour-long speech, Putin asked Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council to “support this decision”.

The Russian leader also demanded that Ukraine end military operations against pro-Moscow rebels in the eastern part of the country, or face more possible bloodshed.

“We demand an immediate end to military operations,” Putin said.

“Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of bloodshed will be fully on the conscience of the regime in power in Ukraine,” he added.

The West had repeatedly warned Putin not to recognise Ukraine’s rebels, a move that effectively buries a fragile peace agreement regulating the conflict.

But the Russian leader ignored these pleas. He told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz shortly before his address was aired that he would recognise them.

Putin spoke for over an hour in a speech heavy with historical references questioning Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and alleging the West had cheated Moscow.

“Modern Ukraine was entirely and completely created by Russia,” Putin said.

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EU to react with sanctions

European Union leaders denounced Putin’s decision to recognise the independence of Ukraine’s separatist regions and warned the bloc will react with sanctions.

“The recognition of the two separatist territories in Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements,” EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel each tweeted.

“The EU and its partners will react with unity, firmness and with determination in solidarity with Ukraine,” they said.

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In a joint statement, von der Leyen and Michel said: “The Union will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.” Just before Putin signed the decrees recognising the two pro-Russian rebel-held parts of Ukraine and signing them on to a “mutual assistance” pact with Russia, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that sanctions would ensue.

Borrell said he would “put the sanctions on the table” for EU foreign ministers to decide whether to adopt them if Putin went ahead.

 

The EU has also warned it will impose unprecedented sanctions on Moscow if it invades Ukraine after it deployed an estimated 150,000 soldiers to the border.

Von der Leyen early Monday told Germany’s ARD broadcaster that “if Vladimir Putin starts a war, we will respond with the most powerful lever we have: Economic and financial sanctions, because the economy is Russia’s weak point”.

She said: “Financial sanctions would mean that Russia would be virtually cut off from international financial markets.”

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