Putin orders troops into eastern Ukraine, sparking international backlash

(Update 4: Changes headline, dateline, lede, adds updates and edits throughout)

Kiev/United Nations/Moscow/Berlin/Washington, Feb 21 (EFE).- Russia’s president on Monday ordered the deployment of “peacekeeping” troops to two breakaway territories of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, while Ukraine’s leader accused Moscow of violating the country’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Moscow’s move set off a flurry of international diplomatic meetings and phone calls, and a fiery emergency convening of the United Nations Security Council.

A pair of decrees Vladimir Putin signed on Tuesday state that Russian soldiers will carry out “peacekeeping functions” in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

Earlier Monday, Putin recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago and to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said at the end of a long televised address to the nation.

“I would like to emphasize again that Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” he said.

Putin said negotiations with Western countries on resolving the Ukraine crisis have hit a “dead end” and that the situation in the Donbas region – where since 2014 Russia-backed separatists have battled Ukrainian government forces, a conflict that has claimed around 14,000 lives – “has reached a critical, acute stage.”

Each side in that conflict accuses the other of targeting civilians and of using armament prohibited under the Minsk Accords that established a ceasefire and were meant to provide the basis for a permanent settlement.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitors on Monday reported more than 3,000 ceasefire violations over the weekend in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian and rebel-held territory is separated by a demarcation line.

Russia’s president also issued a stark warning to Ukraine’s government.

“As for those who seized and hold power in Kiev, we demand an immediate end to their military operations” against Donetsk and Luhansk, Putin said. “Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of bloodshed will be fully on the conscience of the regime in power in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in a televised address in the early hours of Tuesday accused Russia of violating its “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“Ukraine unequivocally qualifies the recent actions of the Russian Federation as a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state. All responsibility for the consequences of these decisions rests with Russia’s political leadership,” he said.

The move “undermines peaceful efforts and destroys existing negotiating formats,” Zelensky said.

“Russia is legalizing its troops, which have actually been in the occupied areas of Donbas since 2014. A country that has supported the war for eight years cannot maintain peace, as it claims.”

Zelensky assured that Ukraine is committed to diplomacy and will not be provoked.

“We can clearly distinguish between the provocations and the offensive of the aggressor’s troops (…) There is currently no reason for chaotic action. We will do everything to keep it that way,” he said.

At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on Monday night, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, claimed Ukraine was on the brink of “military adventure,” but added that “allowing a new bloodbath in the Donbas is something we do not intend to do.”

Ukraine’s Sergiy Kyslytsya said “the international borders of Ukraine are and will remain unchangeable.”

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