Ukraine Crisis, February 21, 2022: Putin recognizes puppet “separatist” governments in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces; to deter a full invasion, U.S. and allies must impose heaviest sanctions now
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.
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 in 2014, 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 recognition 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 Conferene, 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.