Russia on Tuesday moved to quickly secure its hold on Ukraine’s rebel regions, confirming that it would include areas held by Ukrainian forces — forcing Ukraine’s president to consider cutting diplomatic relations amid fears of a full-scale invasion.
New legislation introduced Tuesday — expected to be quickly rubber-stamped by the Kremlin-controlled parliament — aims to allow Russia to deploy troops and set up military bases throughout the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified Tuesday that the Kremlin has recognized the rebel regions’ independence “in borders that existed when they proclaimed” that independence in 2014.
That means chunks of land currently held by Ukraine, whose forces later reclaimed control of large parts of both regions during a nearly eight-year conflict that has killed over 14,000 people.
A Reuters journalist saw tanks and other military hardware moving through Donetsk overnight, and EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that “Russian troops have entered.”
Although no insignia were visible on the vehicles, Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, told reporters that the Russian troops already had moved in, taking up positions in the region’s north and west. Russia has yet to acknowledge any troop deployments.
Ukraine said two soldiers had been killed and 12 wounded in shelling by pro-Russian separatists in the east in the past 24 hours, and reported new hostilities on Tuesday morning.
The dramatic escalation in the region led to a late-night emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council with sanctions expected soon.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday the UK will introduce “immediate” economic sanctions — warning that President Putin is bent on “a full-scale invasion of Ukraine … that would be absolutely catastrophic.”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at a briefing Tuesday that he was considering cutting diplomatic ties with Russia.
“I’ve received a request from the foreign ministry. I will consider the issue of severing diplomatic relations between Ukraine and the Russian Federation,” he said, saying he would do so “immediately after our press conference.”
He also urged Ukraine’s allies not to wait for a further escalation to impose sanctions, which he said should include shutting down the Russian-led Nord Stream 2 pipeline, awaiting approval to carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
Zelenskyy sought to project calm in an address to his nation overnight.
“We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we won’t give anything to anyone,” he said.
His foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, would be in Washington on Tuesday to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the State Department said.
“The Kremlin recognized its own aggression against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Twitter, describing Moscow’s move as a “New Berlin Wall” and urging the West to quickly slap Russia with sanctions.
With Post wires