Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, authorized Russian President Vladimir Putin to use military force abroad on February 22.
Putin said no forces had yet been sent anywhere, but he now had the power to send them if the situation required it. “I didn’t say the troops would go there right now,” Putin said in response to a reporter’s question if the deployment had started.
The vote further increases pressure on Ukraine, where Russia has already deployed “blue helmets” after Russia recognized the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk on February 21.
“The best solution to this problem is for Ukraine to independently reject NATO membership and declare neutrality,” Putin added, outlining his game plan.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov submitted Putin’s request to the Federation Council, reports Ukrinform. The Russian Deputy Minister specified that such an appeal had been launched in connection with the “situation in the Donbass”. Pankov accused Ukraine of aggravating the situation in the Donbass, saying that under such conditions “Russia should take the people under its protection.”
The decision to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions caused a stir in the West, where several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, imposed new sanctions on Russia on the same day.
The reconnaissance also effectively kills the Minsk II process which was designed to end the fighting in the Donbas region. The implementation of the Minsk II protocols has been the subject of intense diplomatic efforts for most of this month, largely led by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The combination of the death of the Minsk II agreement as a possible solution to the current crisis and the permission Putin now has to use military force brings in the clash between East and West over the Ukraine in a new and darker phase.
In a worrying sign that attempts to find a diplomatic solution were running dry, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced he was canceling a scheduled meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov scheduled for February 25, after characterizing the appearance of Russian blue helmets in Donbass as an “invasion” during remarks made on February 22.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden declined an invitation brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron to meet Putin for the fourth time to resume talks.
“Now that we see the invasion beginning and Russia has made clear its complete rejection of diplomacy, it makes no sense to go ahead with this meeting at this time,” Blinken told reporters. after a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Washington. .
Blinken said he was still committed to diplomacy “should Moscow’s approach change” and would do everything he could “to avoid an even worse scenario, an all-out assault on all of Ukraine, including including its capital”.
“But we will not allow Russia to claim the pretext of diplomacy at the same time as it accelerates its march down the path of conflict and war,” he added, quoted by Reuters.
Kuleba was even more outspoken at the same meeting and said, “Now is the time to hit the Russian economy with sanctions, and hit it hard.”
Kuleba called on the international community to unite in the face of Russian aggression and to respond to any escalation by Russia with an equal escalation of sanctions. “That must be the rule from now on,” he said.
The Ukrainian Foreign Minister added that Kiev understands that it is alone if Russia attacks. “The only guarantor of Ukraine’s security is the Ukrainian army”, continuing that “plan A is to try to resolve the crisis through diplomatic means and plan B is to fight for every inch of our country until we win”.
With the changes in the diplomatic landscape over the past couple of days, one possible scenario has become that Putin is offering Ukraine a simple choice: declare neutrality or face a debilitating war with Russia, as other diplomatic avenues appear to have been closed by Putin’s decision. .
The European Union, reacting to the vote of the Federation Council, asked Moscow to reverse its decision to recognize the self-proclaimed entities in the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, to withdraw its troops from the borders of Ukraine and to comply with international law and its international law commitments.
The EU High Representative said in a statement that the recognition of the autonomy of the two republics was an “illegal act” which “undermines the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine and constitutes a serious violation of the international law and international agreements, including the Charter of the United Nations, the Helsinki Final Act, Charter of Paris and Memorandum of Budapest.
“As a signatory to the Minsk agreements, Russia has a clear and direct responsibility to work to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in accordance with these principles. With the decision to recognize the non-government-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine as “independent states”, Russia is clearly violating the Minsk agreements, which stipulate the full return of these areas to the control of the Ukrainian government. “, said the EU.
“We urge Russia, as a party to the conflict, to reverse the recognition [of pseudo-republics in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk region], respect its commitments, respect international law and resume discussions within the Normandy format and the trilateral contact group. We call on other states not to follow Russia’s illegal decision to recognize this proclaimed independence,” the document read.