WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Efforts by world leaders to halt Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were dealt a severe blow Monday when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees recognizing independence two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered his troops to “keep the peace.”
But Putin’s steps during the shelling of those regions could be a precursor to the Kremlin sending troops and weapons to support the separatists. This is sure to deepen the already tense tensions between Russia and the West.
The UN Security Council held a rare night emergency meeting at the request of Ukraine, the United States and other countries.
The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky tried to project calm, telling the country: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we will not give anything to anyone. “
Earlier on Monday, the White House said President Joe Biden had “agreed in principle” to a meeting with Putin, but only if the Kremlin refrained from attacking Ukraine. However, even before any invasion, both Biden and the European Union have said they will move forward with targeted sanctions in response to Putin’s decrees.
The White House has issued a decree banning Americans from investing and doing business in separatist regions.
The meeting between Biden and Putin will give some new hope for preventing the Russian invasion, which, according to US officials, seemed inevitable, as an estimated 150,000 Russian troops await Putin’s order to strike. It was uncertain when – or when – troops stationed at the border would enter Ukraine.
Here is a look at the latest developments in the security crisis in Eastern Europe:
PUTIN PROOFS INDEPENDENCE OF SEPARATIST REGIONS
In a long annoyed speech during a meeting of his Security Council, Putin accused Ukraine of inheriting Russia’s historic lands and being used by the West to deter Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Putin’s decrees allow Russia to sign agreements with two separatist regions. Meanwhile, they say Russia will provide military assistance to “maintain peace.”
Western officials fear that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time, using clashes in eastern Ukraine as a pretext for an attack.
The decision effectively destroys the Minsk peace agreements of 2015, which stopped large-scale fighting. Violence is still raging and there has been a surge in recent weeks in a widespread crisis.
The Security Council meeting came after televised statements by separatist leaders asking Putin to recognize their regions as independent states and sign friendship treaties providing military assistance to protect them from what they described as a continuation of Ukraine’s military offensive. Russia’s lower house made the same demand last week.
Ukrainian authorities deny launching an offensive and accuse Russia of provocation as shelling intensifies along the line of contact.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE UN SECURITY COUNCIL?
Deputy Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo opened the session late Monday with a warning that “the risk of a serious conflict is real and must be prevented at all costs.”
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield said Putin “set the world a choice” and he “should not take his eyes off” because “history tells us that looking the other way in the face of such hostility will be much more expensive.”
Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said Putin had acted in response to Ukrainian aggression. He said Russia was open to diplomacy, but would not allow “a new bloodbath in the Donbass.”
China’s ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun called for restraint and a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
DO BIDEN AND PUTIN MEET?
The presidents of the United States and Russia have previously agreed to meet in a recent diplomatic attempt to prevent another invasion of Ukraine. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Yet both seem wary of a possible encounter.
The White House says the meeting will take place only if Russia does not invade Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, for his part, said that “it is too early to talk about specific plans for the summit.”
French President Emmanuel Macron sought to mediate a possible meeting between Biden and Putin in a series of phone calls that dragged on Sunday night. Macron’s office said the two leaders “accepted the principle of such a summit”, followed by a broader meeting with other leaders.
The White House said Biden had a 30-minute conversation with Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were to lay the groundwork for the summit’s meeting on Thursday, the Macron office said.
Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba after Putin’s statement and planned to meet with him on Tuesday in Washington, according to the State Department.
WHAT IS THE SITUATION ON THE EASTERN FRONT OF UKRAINE?
Heavy shelling intensifies in recent days along a tense line of contact between Ukrainian forces and the military Russia-backed separatist insurgents in the industrial center of Ukraine in the Donbass.
The conflict began after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and claimed at least 14,000 lives.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian military, Pavel Kovalchuk, said Ukrainian positions had been shelled 80 times on Sunday and eight times early on Monday, noting that separatists “cynically shelled residential areas, using civilians as shields.” He said Ukrainian forces were not responding to the fire.
In the village of Navagnatauka, a government-controlled party, 60-year-old Katsyaryna Yauseyeva, said the shelling was worse than in the midst of fighting.
“It’s worse than 2014,” she said in a trembling voice. “We are on the verge of nervous breakdowns. And there is nowhere to run. “
RUSSIAN TROOPS STAY IN BELARUS, ADDING FEAR
Russian troops conducting exercises in Belarus, on Ukraine’s northern border, were due to return home when the war ended on Sunday. But now Moscow and Minsk are talking that Russian troops are on an indefinite term.
The continued deployment of Russian troops in Belarus has raised concerns that Russia could send troops to attack the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, a city of 3 million people less than a three-hour drive from the Belarusian border.
UKRAINE PROJECTS QUIET
Despite Biden’s assertion that Putin had decided to bring Russian troops into Ukraine, Ukrainian officials have sought to project calm, saying they do not see the invasion as inevitable.
Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov said on Monday that Russia had gathered 147,000 troops around Ukraine, including 9,000 in Belarus, claiming that number was not enough to attack the Ukrainian capital.
“Talking about the attack on Kyiv by Belarus sounds ridiculous,” he said, accusing Russia of using troops there to create fear.
At the weekend on the Polish border, many Ukrainians also returned home from buying or working in a neighboring EU country. Some said they were not afraid and vowed to take up arms against Russia in the event of an assault.
THE EU PROPOSES TO PLEASE UKRAINE
Despite all the positions and oaths of massacre by Western leaders, direct military intervention has so far been ruled out. Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said on Monday that the European Union had agreed to set up a military education advisory mission in his country.
Kuleba told reporters in Brussels after a meeting with the bloc’s foreign ministers that an agreement had been reached in principle to deploy a military advisory training mission.
“It’s not a fighting force,” he said. “This is a new element in the cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union.”
The move could include sending European officers to Ukraine’s military schools to help train its armed forces. It will probably take several months to set up.
Russia has sought NATO’s promises that it will never offer membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, a condition the West has rejected.
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark A. Millie, spoke on Monday with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lieutenant General Valery Zaluzhny.
Miles called Ukraine a key NATO partner, according to a Pentagon summary over the phone.
RECENT BRITISH WARNINGS
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson said he was preparing to talk to Zelensky and “offer him the support of the United Kingdom.”
Earlier, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace called on Putin to renounce hostilities and engage in diplomacy not only for the sake of Ukrainians, but also to prevent the death of Russians.
Russians are aware of the consequences of past actions, including the invasion of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Chechnya, he said.
“These are just two examples of too many young people returning home in zinc coffins, and so the government is calling on President Putin for the sake of his people and even at this 11 o’clock to rule out the invasion of Ukraine,” he said.
Wallace told the House of Commons that Putin continued to build strength in the region. He said that now Russia has thrown 65% of its ground combat power on the border with Ukraine.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Trass said the West was preparing for “the worst-case scenario”, adding: “We must make Russia’s price unbearably high.”