Where are Donetsk and Luhansk? Putin sends 'peacekeepers' into breakaway regions

President Joe Biden orders ban on investments and trade with two regions after Putin declares 'peacekeeping' operation in the region


                            Where are Donetsk and Luhansk? Putin sends 'peacekeepers' into breakaway regions
Ukrainian soldiers and tanks outside a building used as a base on February 2, 2017, in Avdiivka, Ukraine (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
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After weeks on edge, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first moves into Ukraine on February 21, 2022. Putin formally recognized the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as "independent republics", and ordered Russian troops into the area for peacekeeping operations. In response, US President Joe Biden issues economic sanctions banning all trade and investment in the breakaway regions of Ukraine. 

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The move is widely seen by many as the start of Putin's invasion of Ukraine, despite diplomatic efforts. So far, the Russian President has met with French President Emmanuel Macron and was due to meet Joe Biden for a summit. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and even Vice President Kamala Harris have been involved in a flurry of activity over the past weeks with NATO, the EU, and even the UN. 

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Meanwhile, on the frontlines, Ukrainians have been out protesting against Russia, even as the military buildup continues. Nonetheless, it seems like invasion has now begun, leading to an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council late on February 21. 

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Where are Donetsk and Luhansk?

The two Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine are located on the nation's East, right on the border with Russia. Collectively, they are known as Donbas and have an estimated population of around 3.6 million. Independent separatists took control of the region in 2014, similar to how Russia annexed Crimea that same year. Since then, there has been an ongoing battle in the region, between the Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian military. 

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A map showing the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk on Ukraine's eastern border with Russia. (RGloucester/Wikimedia Commons

 

It was in the Donbas region that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by the separatists in 2014, for which Russia denied any involvement. Shortly after the separatists took control of the region, they held a vote to declare their independence from Ukraine, which was never recognized by any country (including Russia) at the time. In September 2014, the regions were recognized as independent parts of Ukraine, but not independent nations under the Minsk Protocol. 

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Putin has now broken the Minsk Protocol by choosing to recognize the Donbas as fully independent, which is what has prompted the world to move. He also announced the deployment of Russian forces for "peacekeeping operations" to the region, which many believe is a cover for invasion. "'I consider it necessary to take a long-overdue decision: To immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic," Putin said.

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People attend a patriotic rally at the Wall of Remembrance, which shows the photographs, names, and birth and death dates of those who have died fighting for Ukraine in the ongoing Donbas conflict, on January 22, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

 

US' response 

In response to the move, Biden has swiftly implemented sanctions via an Executive Order. He also promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a "swift and decisive" response. So far, the White House has not commented on the planned summit with Putin, but most experts believe it will be scrapped in light of the news. In a statement, Press Secretary Jen Psaki did say "additional measures" would be taken but did not detail what they would be.

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There are reports that US diplomats will be moved out of Ukraine and temporarily stationed in Poland. Despite the move, top officials have still said there is time for a diplomatic solution. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said to Good Morning America, "We never give up hope on diplomacy until the missiles fly or the tanks roll." However, he did acknowledge, "the likelihood that there's a diplomatic solution, given the movements – the troop movements of the Russians, is diminishing hour by hour."

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However, it seems like Putin is in no mood. "We've been negotiating for eight years. We've reached a dead end," he reportedly told his inner circle during a meeting on February 21. On social media, condemnation was also swift. "Russian oligarchs need to be shut out of the international financial system ASAP Freeze their assets. Seize their yachts, private jets and real estate in London, Paris and New York. Ban them from travel These are the people in Putin’s innermost circle Hurt them & you hurt him," one person tweeted. One person said, "Putin didn't send peace keepers. He sent invaders."

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"Putin’s actions imperil the security and future of Europe. This blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty puts innocent civilians in immediate danger. The United States and other western democracies must be united in our response to hold Russia accountable," tweeted Rep. Spanberger. Sen. Cassidy said, "Russia invading Ukraine violates every international norm. It firmly establishes Putin as an enemy of freedom, not just in his country, but elsewhere in the world as well. The United States has many options at its command. It is time we use these options to support Ukraine."

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