In a long speech given Monday, Feb. 21, the president of Russia officially recognized the separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, while questioning the legitimacy of the latter’s statehood.
“I ask the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to support this decision, and then to ratify the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with individual republics. These two documents will be prepared and signed in the very near future,” Vladimir Putin said in the televised address.
Russia and Russian-backed forces invaded parts of Ukraine in 2014. While Russia directly annexed the Crimean peninsula, pro-Kremlin separatist groups created autonomous “people’s republics” in the Donbas region, which they have held with heavy material and human support from across the border.
Despite this, Russia had yet to formally recognize these states.
Putin also took a shot at the legitimacy of Ukraine as a sovereign country, noting that it came into existence by way of the communist revolution in 1917.
“Let’s start with the fact that modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, by the Bolshevik, communist Russia. This process began almost immediately after the 1917 revolution,” Putin said in the speech.
The Bolshevik dictator, Vladimir Lenin, had worked with Ukrainian independence groups for the sake of seizing and holding power, Putin said, calling him the “author and creator” of Ukraine’s statehood.
Shortly after Putin’s speech, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, prohibiting “new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Putin’s statements a “blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.”
The Kremlin announced that it would begin moving Russian troops into separatist territory.
Prior to gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine was one of 15 republics in the communist superpower. Before that, it was part of the Russian Empire. Ukraine’s capital Kyiv served as the center of the ancient Rus’ kingdom in which both Russian and Ukrainian cultures have their roots.