Vladimir Putin recognises Ukraine rebel regions: What does it mean, what will happen next and who it will benefit

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The Ukraine-Russia crisis plunged even deeper on Monday after President Vladimir Putin announced that Moscow recognises the independence of rebel regions Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

The move is bound to up the ante in a crisis the West fears could unleash a major war.

Let’s take a look at the regions in question and what are the implications of Russia recognising their independence.

Donetsk and Luhansk: The rebel regions

The Donetsk and Luhansk regions — collectively known as the Donbas — are in eastern Ukraine, near the border with Russia.

Donetsk, the main city in the mining basin of Donbas, is one of the main steel-producing centres of Ukraine. Around two million people live in the region.

Luhansk, formerly Voroshilovgrad, is also an industrial city of 1.5 million inhabitants.

AFP

As the Associated Press reports, when Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president was driven from office by mass protests in February 2014, Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. It then threw its weight behind an insurgency in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine region known as Donbas.

In April 2014, Russia-backed rebels seized government buildings in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, proclaimed the creation of “people’s republics” and battled Ukrainian troops and volunteer battalions.

The following month, the separatist regions held a popular vote to declare independence and make a bid to become part of Russia. Moscow hasn’t accepted the motion, just used the regions as a tool to keep Ukraine in its orbit and prevent it from joining NATO.

Ukraine and the West accused Russia of backing the rebels with troops and weapons. Moscow denied that, saying any Russians who fought there were volunteers.

What does Putin’s recognition mean?

On Monday, in a televised address, Vladimir Putin recognised two Moscow-backed rebel regions of Ukraine as independent.

Putin railed against Russia's ex-Soviet neighbour Ukraine as a failed state and "puppet" of the West, repeatedly suggesting that it is essentially part of Russia.

He accused authorities in Kyiv of persecuting Russian speakers and of preparing a "blitzkrieg" against the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine's east.

Putin said it was necessary to "take a long overdue decision, to immediately recognise the independence" of the two regions.

The recognition was followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin ordering forces into separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.

This is the first time that Russia has officially announced that it does not regard Donbas as part of Ukraine.

The move effectively shatters the Minsk peace agreements and will further fuel tensions with the West.

It also means that Russia could now openly side with the rebel territories and openly support them with troops and weapons.

According to Alexander Borodai, a Russian parliament member and former Donetsk political leader, the separatists would now also look to Russia to help them wrest control of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions still under the control of Ukrainian forces; this would effectively mean open military conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

What happens to the Minsk agreement?

As mentioned earlier, the recognition of these two regions shatters the Minsk peace agreements. For those who don’t know, the Minsk agreement was signed in February 2015 after France and Germany brokered the peace agreement. The peace deal between representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the rebels foresaw a new cease-fire, a pullback of heavy weapons and a series of moves toward a political settlement.

People wave Russian national flags celebrating the recognising the independence in the centre of Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, eastern Ukraine. AP

How Russia and Ukraine reacted to the move?

Associated Press reported that the call to recognise the independence of the regions will be popular in Russia. In fact, following Putin's announcement, Russian state media released images of people in Donetsk launching fireworks, waving large Russian flags and playing Russia’s national anthem.

However, the same could not be said about Ukrainians in Kyiv.

“Why should Russia recognise {the rebel-held regions}? If neighbours come to you and say, ‘This room will be ours,’ would you care about their opinion or not? It’s your flat, and it will be always your flat," Maria Levchyshchyna, a 48-year-old painter in the Ukrainian capital, said to Associated Press. “Let them recognise whatever they want. But in my view, it can also provoke a war, because normal people will fight for their country.”

Does this help or hurt Moscow?

The answer isn’t as simple. While recognising these two regions as independent will give Moscow a chance for an open-ended military presence, it will also lead to heavy sanctions and condemnation from Western countries.

The move has already drawn immediate condemnation from the West, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling it "a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of the Ukraine".

European Union chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel promised the bloc "will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act."

America's Joe Biden has already gone ahead with targeted sanctions in response to Putin's decrees.

The White House issued an executive order to prohibit Americans from investing and doing business in the separatist regions.

With inputs from agencies

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Vladimir Putin recognises Ukraine rebel regions: What does it mean, what will happen next and who it will benefit
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