Russia Deployes Forces into Ukrainian Donbas

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Russia Deployes Forces into Ukrainian Donbas

Following the recognition of the Russia-backed territories as "independent", Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a "peacekeeping" operation into the regions. It is still unclear whether Russia recognized them in their current or proclaimed borders yet

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his Defense Ministry to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine's two breakaway regions of Donbas. The order followed the recognition of these regions as "independent" entities on late Monday, Fabruary 21, Deutsche Welle and the Guardian report.

Russia called the move a "peacekeeping operation". The deployment of Russian troops into the so-called Donetsk and "Luhansk People's Republics was revealed in the text of two treaty documents that Putin signed with the leaders of the separatist republics.

Read more: Out of Mind Towards War: Putin's Russia Recognized Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine as Independent Entities

The third article of the treaties provided for the “implementation of peacekeeping functions by the armed forces of the Russian Federation” in the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR, which Ukraine and most of the world views as its sovereign territory.

Defense Express / A tank drives along a street in Donetsk on February 22 after President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of Russian troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine following his recognition of their independence / Russia Deployes Forces into Ukrainian Donbas / Radio Liberty / Reuters
A tank drives along a street in Donetsk on February 22 after President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of Russian troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine following his recognition of their independence / Radio Liberty / Photo credit: Reuters via Radio Liberty

The source of the Guardian said, “a huge convoy of Russian armored personnel carriers and other equipment has been traveling for one and a half hours”. It was spotted heading north towards the city of Yasynuvata, also in the Donestk region.

A video released by Ukraine shows a column of military vehicles moving in convoy along a road. The officials said it was not possible to tell if the troops belonged to the regular Russian army, or were from Russian-controlled separatist units. Similar videos started to appear in social media.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on Russia's actions. The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield called a peacekeeping operation in eastern Ukraine "nonsense". She noted that Moscow's recognition of breakaway regions as independent is part of its pretext for war, Reuters report.

Defense Express / United Nations Security Council meets after Russia recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, in New York City, U.S. February 21, 2022 / Russia Deployes Forces into Ukrainian Donbas
United Nations Security Council meets after Russia recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, in New York City, U.S. February 21, 2022. / Reuters / Photo credit: Reuters, Carlo Allegri

A Reuters witness saw tanks and other military hardware moving through the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk after Putin formally recognized the breakaway regions and ordered the deployment of Russian forces to "keep the peace".

About five tanks were seen in a column on the edge of Donetsk and two more in another part of town, a Reuters reporter said. No insignia were visible on the vehicles.

Further Russian aggression in Ukraine will depend on the current "boundary question". Although the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk are claimed in whole by pro-Russia separatists, only parts of the provinces are under their control. Both provinces belong completely to Ukraine under international law, Deutsche Welle reports.

It is not immediately clear if the order in the decree means Russian troops will be dispatched only within the territory already controlled by the separatists.

Russia-backed territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions (oblast) in Donbas vs. Ukraine-controlled territories / Infographics credit: Deutsche Welle

According to the Guardian, the two Russian-controlled territories in east Ukraine claim that they should control more territory than they currently do. That includes the large city of Mariupol, which is on the government side of the front lines. If Moscow supports their claim, then Russia could launch an attack to capture that territory.

So the key question in Moscow today is whether Russia is recognizing the territories’ existing borders – or the territory they would like to control.

Thus far, it’s not clear. A Russian deputy foreign minister gave a direct answer during a press conference that Russia recognizes the borders in which those states “exercise their authority and jurisdiction”.

But then Vladimir Putin’s spokesman answered a similar question. Dmitry Peskov said that the borders are “those in which they exist and were proclaimed”.

Those are different things. The proclaimed borders in 2014 include cities like Mariupol. The current borders do not.

As Defense Express reported, Vladimir Putin's decision to recognize the so-called "DPR/LPR" has received an immediate reaction from the world leaders. The US, the UK, and a multitude of other countries, as well as NATO and the EU, condemned the move, regarding it as a direct assault on Ukraine's sovereignty.

Russian diplomatic aggression is accompanied by repetitive shelling in the breakaway regions. Ukrainian and US officials assume Russia tries to justify its offensive actions by attacking civilians and to create a pretext for the invasion that is happening now.

Read more: ​Ukraine’s Defense Minister: Our Choice is Simple – to Defend Our Country, Our Homes, Our Families