Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine on Monday that have long been controlled by Russian proxies.
The two statelets — the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics — first announced their existence in 2014, and have received covert Russian military and financial support since then. Now, Russia is openly supporting them, with reports suggesting that Russian army regulars are moving into the republics and are approaching the contact line with Ukrainian forces.
Putin said that Russia recognized the borders of the two proxy statelets as their constitutions prescribe them — an area that stretches deep into Ukraine-controlled territory. The U.S. has responded with sanctions, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called up the country’s reservists.
The move effectively demolishes the Minsk-II peace deal that’s regulated the conflict since 2015. Western powers have begun to react, with Germany shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was set to bypass Ukraine as a vehicle for Russian gas flows to Europe.
For now, it’s the next step in Putin’s game of tension, directed at Ukraine and the West. It’s unclear when — or whether — Russia will use the army that it’s amassed along Ukraine’s borders. We’ll be following along below.