Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine on Monday, just hours after he formally recognized the independence of two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in the eastern part of the country.
The order will likely be seen as another escalation of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, on a day when tensions rose as Putin moved forward with the formal recognition of two breakaway regions and delivered a lengthy speech about the relationship between the two nations.
Putin framed the troop movement as a “peacekeeping” effort in both regions. His decision to recognize both regions was seen by the United States and its European allies as a dramatic provocation and part of a pretext to invade Ukraine and led to the U.S. and European Union announcing sanctions.
Many experts believed Moscow’s formal recognition would effectively scuttle a previous ceasefire agreement that some Western allies hoped could provide a route out of the crisis.
In a wide-ranging televised speech Monday evening, Putin described Ukraine as a historical part of Russia that was illegitimately taken from Moscow and is now run by a “puppet regime” controlled by the U.S. and the West.
“Ukraine is not just a neighboring country, they are a part of our culture,” he said.
Noting that Ukraine has taken down some of its Soviet-era statues, he warned Kyiv, “You want decommunization? We will show you what it’s like.”
He then signed a decree formally recognizing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, which have been controlled by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Alongside him were Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, heads of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics.
Soon after Putin finished his address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that he spoke with President Joe Biden Monday afternoon and would soon speak with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. A White House official said the call lasted about 35 minutes.
In a readout of Biden’s call with Zelenskyy, the White House said Biden “strongly condemned Putin’s decision to purportedly recognize the ‘independence’ of” Donetsk and Luhansk.
“President Biden reiterated that the United States would respond swiftly and decisively, in lock-step with its Allies and partners, to further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the White House continued.
Biden also held calls with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. In a separate readout, the White House said Biden and the two European leaders “discussed how they will continue to coordinate their response on next steps.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden will soon sign an executive order prohibiting U.S. investment and trade in the Ukrainian breakaway regions. That order will additionally allow the administration to sanction any person who operates in those areas.
“We have anticipated a move like this from Russia and are ready to respond immediately,” she 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.”
The European Union condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Putin’s recognition of the two regions in eastern Ukraine.
“This step is a blatant violation of international law as well as of the Minsk agreements,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel said in a joint statement. “The Union will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.”
Additionally, the U.S. congressional delegation to the Munich Security Conference pledged to “work toward” emergency legislation that “will best support our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine, and support freedom and safety around the world.”
“No matter what happens in the coming days, we must assure that the dictator Putin and his corrupt oligarchs pay a devastating price for their decisions,” according to the statement from the bipartisan group led by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.
Over the past week, the Russian parliament and top officials have asked Putin to formally recognize the Ukrainian regions. Earlier Monday, the Moscow-backed leaders of the two breakaway regions had formally asked Putin to do the same.