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Putin recognizes puppet “separatist” governments in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces
By recognizing the”separatist” republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, Vladimir Putin has destroyed the last off-ramp from war, the last possibility for any kind of diplomacy and negotiations. The Minsk agreements are dead.
Putin’s action is characteristic of his pattern of probing, measuring the Western response, and then if the latter is weak pushing on to achieve a larger objective.
In response to the weak Western responses to the Russian invasion of the Crimea in February 2014 and Russia’s “annexation” of the peninsula and Sevastopol in March, he began invading the eastern Ukraine with irregular forces in April. Then, during the summer, he sent convoys of white trucks purportedly bearing “humanitarian aid” to the Donbas, which avoided Red Cross inspection and Ukrainian border controls. Seeing the lack of response, and perhaps simultaneously with the white truck convoys while the world’s attention was distracted, in August he sent regular army units, tanks, and artillery into Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
“Putin redraws the map of Europe with Russian troops, as Western leaders slumber through the summer of appeasement of 2014,” The Trenchant Observer, August 25, 2014.
The leaders of the EU, meeting at a summit in Normandy, France, adopted heavy sectorial sanctions against Russia on September 5, 2014. Acting on a parallel track, Germany, France, and Ukraine, under OSCE auspices in what came to be known as the “Normandy quartet” format or the “Normandy format”, negotiated the Minsk Protocol (Minsk I), in an effort to forestall a Russian invasion (Russian troops were massed on the border with Ukraine), which was also signed on September 5, 2014.
Putin had his proxies sign the agreement in the hopes of forestalling the imposition of heavy sectorial sanctions by the EU at its summit in Normandy. In this he failed.
The key points to bear in mind about the recognition of the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk is that they were installed through the illegal use of force by Russia, that Russia has troops and equipment in the Donbas now as a result of its ongoing invasion, and that recognition of these puppet regimes is equivalent to the Russian annexation of the Crimea as part of Russia in March, 2014.
The ongoing invasion is a continuing violation of the U.N. Charter prohibition (Article 2 paragraph 4) against “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
Immediate action required to try to deter a full invasion of Ukraine
The U.S. and its allies must impose their heaviest sanctions on Russia, now. The argument that they should be held in reserve in order to deter a further invasion by Putin is fallacious. As president Volodymyr Zelensky argued at the Munich Security Conference, if the U.S. is almost 100% sure Russia is going to invade, what are they waiting for?
The sanctions cannot be useful as a deterrent in the future if they are not imposed now when deterrence fails.
There is no guarantee that even, if imposed, they will alter Putin’s behavior. Nonetheless, history will judge the U.S. and its allies harshly if they don’t even try.
If they don’t impose the threatened sanctions, they will have zero credibility the next time they try to deter Putin, e.g. from seizing the land corridor that connects Kaliningrad to mainland Russia.
The Trenchant Observer