Putin denies Ukraine’s historic legitimacy, recognises Donetsk and Luhansk independence

Russia sends troops to de facto Moscow’s dependencies Donbass republics

DPR i and LPR territories in western Ukraine.
DPR i and LPR territories in western Ukraine.
Russia recognised the independence from Ukraine of the so-called people’s republics of Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR), which proclaimed themselves sovereign in 2014 following the Maidan crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the decrees recognising the two states after a speech in which he denied Ukraine’s historical legitimacy as a country.

The Russian president claimed that “modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia, and more specifically, by Bolshevik communist Russia.” Putin claimed that Lenin was responsible for separating Russia’s “historical territories” and granting them to Ukraine, railed against the Soviet leadership’s decision to allow the secession of the Soviet Union’s constituent republics, and said that the dissolution of the former superpower was, in reality, “the collapse of historical Russia under the name of the USSR.”

Having framed Ukraine’s existence as a “historical mistake” of the communists, Putin threatened the country appealing to the decommunisation process (“dekomunizatsia” in Russian) that Ukraine has been undergoing since the end of the Soviet Union. “Do you want decommunisation?”, asked Putin in his speech. “OK, we’re fine with that. But there is no need to stop halfway: we are ready to show you what real decommunisation means for Ukraine.”

The Russian leader then insisted that Ukraine “has never had a stable tradition of statehood” and accused the Ukrainian “oligarchy” of having put the country at the service of Western interests and of having “corrupted” it to such an extent that, according to Putin, Ukraine is no longer even a fully sovereign country, but a kind of colony or foreign protectorate.

Putin also said that Ukraine’s rapprochement to NATO is a “direct threat to Russia’s security” and that the “regime ruling” in Ukraine should stop “hostilities” against Russia, Donetsk, and Luhansk. Otherwise, he concluded, “any responsibility for possible further bloodshed” would fall on the Ukrainian government.

Troop deployment

After signing the recognitions of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics and two friendship treaties with the two states —whose leaders, Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik, were in the Kremlin for the occasion—, Putin ordered the Russian army to deploy to the DPR and LPR to ensure “peacekeeping” in both territories.

The frontline between the two republics and Ukraine has been active since 2014. According to UN estimates, since then more than 13,000 people have been killed and more than 1 million have become internally displaced in Ukraine.

Both Donbass republics are, in practice, two Russian protectorates with virtually total dependence on Russian military protection and economic and political support.

What remains to be seen now is whether these moves will be the prelude to military operations aimed at seizing more territory from Ukraine, occupying the country, or triggering a change of government, or whether Putin will stop at this point and wait to see the reaction of Western countries.

The end of the Minsk agreements

The recognition of both republics buries the 2014 and 2015 Minsk agreements, in which Ukraine accepted the autonomy of Donetsk and Luhansk. But the way Kiev and Moscow understood the deals was pretty different. According to Ukraine, the agreements meant that the two rebel republics were brought back under its direct control, and Ukrainian sovereignty was fully preserved. In Russia’s eyes, they meant that the LPR and DPR —and, through them as proxies, Russia— would have a say in Ukraine’s political, economic, judicial and international relations governance through constitutional reform, which in practice would have meant the end of the country’s sovereignty itself and its indirect subordination to the Kremlin.

Kiev has always refused to implement the agreements in the way Russia demanded. With the recognition of the DPR and LPR independence, the Minsk agreements are dead. With them, the possibility that Moscow could exert such influence over Ukraine through constitutional and agreed channels also vanishes.