Putin Orders Russian Troops to Invade Eastern Ukraine

Declaring two Ukrainian regions “independent,” Putin dispatched “peacekeepers” and warned Ukraine not to fight back. The White House issued immediate sanctions.

Updated: 6:42 p.m. ET.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has ordered troops to move into Ukraine’s Donbas region on Monday, his second unprovoked invasion in eight years of the Western-leaning former Soviet republic.  

Defying weeks of frantic international diplomacy and warnings from NATO member states, Putin declared in an angry speech that Moscow would grant formal diplomatic recognition to two breakaway republics held by Russian-supported militia groups. The recognition essentially collapses the Minsk ceasefire agreement installed after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine. Putin said he would send Russian forces into the eastern Ukrainian republics as “peacekeepers.”

President Joe Biden “strongly condemned” the announcement in calls with leaders of Ukraine, France, and Germany, according to White House statements issued Monday. 

“We strongly condemn President Putin’s decision to recognize the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’ as ‘independent,’” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a statement. “As we said when the Duma first made its request: this decision represents a complete rejection of Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, directly contradicts Russia’s claimed commitment to diplomacy, and is a clear attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley also spoke with Ukraine’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny. “The chairman once again reaffirmed unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Milley’s spokesman Col. David Butler said in a statement.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement, “I condemn Russia’s decision to extend recognition to the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic.’ This further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk Agreements, to which Russia is a party.”

Putin’s declaration followed a rare televised gathering of Russia’s national security council, in which military and other leaders backed the territorial grab, citing uncorroborated and disputed claims of Ukrainian attacks on eastern Ukraine. Russian media carried the meeting as “live,” although Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu's watch showed a time five hours earlier.

“Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us: It's an inseparable part of our shared history, our comrades and relatives,” Putin said in a speech following the meeting, in which he warned Ukraine’s leaders not to fight back. 

“As for those who captured and are holding on to power in Kyiv: We demand that they immediately cease military action. If not, the complete responsibility for the possibility of a continuation of bloodshed will be fully and wholly on the conscience of the regime ruling the territory of Ukraine,” according to a translation as reported by the New York Times.

U.S. officials have said that more than 50,000 Ukrainians could perish in a major Russian offensive.

In response, Biden on Monday issued the first economic sanctions related to the incursion. They “prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine.” The president informed leaders in Congress immediately following the order.  

Press Secretary Jen Psaki 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.” 

A senior administration official who later briefed reporters said more sanctions announcements would follow on Tuesday. The official said Monday’s events unfolded as Blinken warned the UN Security Council they would, last week, and that Putin has now exposed his real intentions after weeks of cat-and-mouse diplomacy with Moscow. 

“We believe it made true his clear design,” said the senior administration official. “This was a speech to the Russian people to justify war.”

The official said “Indeed, just in the last hour, we've seen Russia order troops to deploy into the DPR and LPR for so-called ‘peacekeeping’ functions.”

The senior administration official also said that if Putin does not press further into Ukraine, the U.S. may not enact the full suite of sanctions it has threatened to impose. 

To that, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex, replied in a tweet, “Weak appeasement surrender monkeys….”

Putin’s orders effectively spell the end of the 2015 Minsk Agreements that were meant to govern the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia, following Putin’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula and eastern Ukraine. 

“This would not only be a complete repudiation of the Minsk Agreements [and]..indeed, of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.  If carried out, this would again result in the upending of the rules based international order, under the threat of force,” Michael Carpenter, the U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or OSCE, said on Monday in a statement. 

Russia’s action sparked frenzied reactions from U.S. security veterans warning that Putin’s army may not stop with those two regions of Ukraine.

“Putin’s claims that the USSR created Ukraine are belied by history and, in any event, do not alter the fact that Ukraine is an independent state and a member of the United Nations,” said Nicholas Rostow, law professor at Cornell, who has served as a senior United Nations official, a staff director on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and on the National Security Council for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

“It ought to be absurd that Putin can repeat the arguments Adolf Hitler made for invading Czechoslovakia,” said Rostow, in a statement. 

In the televised meeting of Putin’s security officials, Sergey Yevgenyevich Naryshkin, director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, appeared to misunderstand Putin’s intent. 

“I support recognition of DNR and LNR as part of Russia,” Naryshkin said. 

Putin quickly corrected his subordinate. 

“We aren’t talking about that. We are talking about independence,” he said.

“Then I support independence,” Naryshkin responded.