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invasion fears Vladimir Putin sends 'peacekeeping' troops to Ukraine and accuses Kyiv of genocide

Putin accused the West of holding a ‘knife to the throat’ of Russia

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Pro-Russian activists react on a street after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognising two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities. Photo: Alexander Ermochenko

Pro-Russian activists react on a street after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognising two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities. Photo: Alexander Ermochenko

Residents in front of a house near the front line in the village of Travneve in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. PHOTO: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

Residents in front of a house near the front line in the village of Travneve in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. PHOTO: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH

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Pro-Russian activists react on a street after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognising two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities. Photo: Alexander Ermochenko

Vladimir Putin last night warned of “bloodshed” after he recognised the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, raising fears of a full-on invasion.

The Russian president accused Kyiv of carrying out “genocide” in the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in a televised address to the nation.

In an ominous speech that lasted almost an hour, Mr Putin said the Ukrainian government was sure to seek nuclear weapons with the assistance of the West. He accused the West of holding a “knife to the throat” of Russia as he called Ukraine a US colony with a “puppet regime”.

Afterwards he signed a decree that recognised the independence of the Russian-speaking separatist regions, which have been under effective Russian control since Russia stoked a separatist war there in 2014.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin The Kremlin's information war on Ukraine has faced ridicule. Photo: Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin The Kremlin's information war on Ukraine has faced ridicule. Photo: Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin The Kremlin's information war on Ukraine has faced ridicule. Photo: Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin

In Mr Putin’s eyes, it could create a legal basis for the Russian army to move across the border into the Donbas region and engage in direct conflict with Ukrainian forces, dashing months of Western diplomatic efforts aimed at averting an invasion.

Mr Putin last night deployed Russian military to “maintain peace” in the Donbas region.

“They are planning a blitzkrieg as it was before in 2014,” he said of the Ukrainian military in Donbas. “How long can this tragedy continue?

“We demand that those who seized power in Kyiv immediately stop hostilities. Otherwise, the responsibility for the continuing bloodshed will rest entirely with the Ukrainian regime.”

The live television feed cut to footage of him signing two decrees – one recognising the Donetsk People’s Republic and the other recognising the independence of the Luhansk People’s Republic.

The leaders of those two separatist statelets were shown in the Kremlin putting their signatures on a friendship treaty with Russia signed by Mr Putin.

The Russian president did not announce immediate military operations, but his tone and description of Ukraine as an imminent security threat left little hope that war can be avoided.

“Whereas before, Russia didn’t have a justification for overt military intervention even under its own laws, now it will,” said Samuel Charap, an analyst at the Rand Corporation.

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It was not clear last night if Mr Putin planned to recognise all the territory claimed by the separatists, or just that which they already de facto control. A more expansive vision could see Russia push past the line of contact with Ukrainian armed forces.

The announcement drew condemnation from Western governments, who threatened to impose sanctions.

Ukraine immediately requested a meeting of the UN Security Council to address the threat of a Russian invasion, citing security assurances it received in return for giving up its Soviet-era nuclear stockpile.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered defensive support in a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, saying while a diplomatic solution should be pursued until the last possible second, the situation was deteriorating.

“The prime minister told President Zelenskiy that he believed an invasion was a real possibility in the coming hours and days,” Mr Johnson’s office said.

“He told President Zelenskiy that the UK had already drawn up sanctions to target those complicit in the violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and that those measures would come into force tomorrow. The prime minister also said he would explore sending further defensive support to Ukraine.”

US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to prohibit trade and investment between US individuals and the two breakaway regions recognised as independent by Russia, the White House said.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron, who earlier in the day tried to avert the war by inviting Mr Putin to have a summit with Mr Biden to discuss international security, called an emergency national security meeting.

He said that Mr Putin had broken his commitments, and that his decision to escalate the situation in Ukraine needed to be sanctioned.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin condemned Russia’s recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, declaring it a “violation of international law” and saying it “breaches Ukrainian sovereignty”.

Mr Martin said Ireland, “with our EU partners, will stand in solidarity with Ukraine”.

It came as Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border were moving to tactical start lines in preparation for the start of offensive operations.

The EU last night agreed a “limited” package of sanctions that will target those “responsible” for the recognition of the separatist regions.

Some policy-makers have argued the most powerful sanctions should be held in reserve until Russian troops cross the border.

Last night, it was reported that US officials have discussed plans with the Ukrainian government for Mr Zelensky to leave Kyiv in the event of a Russian invasion.

He would retreat to Lviv, in western Ukraine, around 80km from the Polish border, two people familiar with the discussions told NBC News.

Mr Putin’s ultimatum to Kyiv followed a rambling speech in which he claimed that eastern parts of Ukraine were “historical Russian lands”, and that the county’s independence was merely a product of “various mistakes of the Bolsheviks and the Communist party”.

He went on to denounce Nato expansion and accused the West of trying to contain Russia and would come up with an excuse to slap it with new sanctions.

“They will do it just because we exist,” he said. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

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