People wave Russian national flags celebrating Moscow’s recognition Donetsk and Lugansk, eastern Ukraine, Feb 21, 2022
Russia’s recognition of the ‘people’s republics’ of Luhansk and Donetsk in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass on Monday is a watershed event. In a manner of speaking, by this decision President Vladimir Putin crossed the Rubicon. But a tumultuous period lies ahead.
Moscow followed up by putting the legal underpinnings in place “to deploy troops to these regions,” concluding two treaties on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance between Russia and the two Donbass republics, and, obtaining the authorisation by Russia’s Federation Council, or upper parliament house, for the use of armed forces outside Russia (as required under the constitution.)
The resolution by Federation Council, which was unanimously supported by all the 153 senators at an extraordinary session on Tuesday and coming into immediate effect, says:
“The Federation Council rules to give its consent to the Russian president for the use of armed forces outside Russia on the basis of generally recognised principles and norms of international law. The strength of army units, areas of deployment, tasks and the duration of their stay outside Russia are determined by the Russian president in compliance with the Russian constitution.”
Notably, this authorisation is not Donbass-specific, nor is there any timeline set here. It is also not conditional. Simply put, discretion lies with Putin entirely to make decisions on troop deployments.
Putin’s national address to the Russian people on Monday, which has been amplified further by him in comments to the Russian media on Tuesday, throws light on the “potential future steps.” What emerges from the national address are three things.
First, Moscow views the post-2014 political developments in Ukraine as having been engineered to create an anti-Russian regime in Kiev with hostile intentions, nurtured by the West. This regime is hopelessly compromised to the West and Ukraine has been turned into an American colony.
Second, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) has made deep inroads into Ukraine’s political and defence system. “The Ukrainian troop control system has already been integrated into NATO. This means that NATO headquarters can issue direct commands to the Ukrainian armed forces, even to their separate units and squads.”
Third, NATO is about to grant membership to Ukraine. That will increase the level of military threats to Russia dramatically, considering that American strategic planning documents allow preemptive strike at enemy missile systems. Putin said, “ballistic missiles from Kharkov will take seven to eight minutes; and hypersonic assault weapons, four to five minutes. It is like a knife to the throat.”
Putin said Russia’s expectation is that all disputes will be resolved during talks between the current Kiev authorities and the leaders of these republics, but he also acknowledged that “at this point in time, we realise that it is impossible to do so, since hostilities are still ongoing and, moreover, they are showing signs of escalating.”
From the remarks, it seems highly likely that conflict will erupt over Mariupol, as Donetsk forces, emboldened by Russian support, are sure to make a determined pitch to retake the port city and the adjacent coastal region, which have a big Russian population too. Of course, Russia is obliged to assist the Donetsk forces militarily if need arises.
Putin floated an idea that the vexed question of Ukraine’s membership can be addressed in such a way that the West does not “lose face”. He suggested that Kiev could instead “refuse to join NATO. In effect, in so doing, they would translate the idea of neutrality into life.”
In his national address, Putin spoke with a lot of bitterness. At one point, he directly threatened the extreme nationalists who seized power in the 2014 coup and let loose a wave of violence and systematic persecution against ethnic Russians.
Putin said, “The criminals who committed that atrocity have never been punished, and no one is even looking for them. But we know their names and we will do everything to punish them, find them and bring them to justice.” Putin anticipates a new regime in Kiev.