Russian troops move into rebel-controlled areas of Ukraine

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Russian troops have begun moving into rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine after Russian legislators gave President Vladimir Putin permission to use military force outside the country.

NATO has confirmed Russian forces have entered the rebel-held areas overnight while the world considers its response.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said Russia has now moved “from covert attempts to destabilise Ukraine to overt military action.”


Mr Stoltenberg called the move Tuesday a “serious escalation by Russia and a flagrant violation of international law.”

The NATO chief called the military action a “further invasion” of Ukraine by Russia which had already invaded its neighbour in 2014.

He added that there’s “every indication” Russia continues to plan for a full-scale attack on Ukraine.

Mr Stoltenberg said that NATO allies have more than 100 warplanes on high alert and more than 120 warships ready at sea from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean Sea.

The White House has begun referring to Russian troop deployments in eastern Ukraine as an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term — a red line that President Joe Biden has said would result in the US levying severe sanctions against Moscow.

Jon Finer, the principal deputy national security adviser, said Tuesday: “We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine.” He said “latest” was important — “an invasion is an invasion and that is what is under way.”

The White House decided to begin referring to Russia’s actions as an “invasion” because of the situation on the ground, according to a US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The UK government is saying this is the beginning of an invasion, slapping sanctions object five Russian banks and three Russian billionaires

Several European leaders said earlier in the day that Russian troops have moved into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine after Putin recognised their independence as countries including the UK imposed sanctions.

Meanwhile President Putin called for international recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, an end to Ukraine’s NATO membership bid and a halt to weapons shipments there.

Putin claimed that Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula should be internationally recognised as a legitimate reflection of the local population’s choice, likening it to a vote for Kosovo independence.

The annexation has been widely condemned by Western powers as a breach of international law.

To end the current crisis, he also called for the renunciation of Ukraine’s NATO bid, saying it should assume a “neutral status,” and said that the West should stop sending weapons there.

A woman holds her dog as she waits with others to cross from Ukrainian government controlled areas to pro-Russian separatists' controlled territory in Stanytsia Luhanska, the only crossing point open daily, in the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine.

Permission for ‘invasion’

Members of the upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside Russia — effectively formalising a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions, where an eight-year conflict has killed nearly 14,000 people.

The White House on Tuesday began referring to Russian troop deployments in eastern Ukraine as an “invasion” after initially hesitating to use the term — a red line that President Joe Biden has said would result in the US levying severe sanctions against Moscow.

“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” said Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, said in an interview on CNN. “An invasion is an invasion and that is what is underway.”

The White House decided to begin referring to Russia’s actions as an “invasion” because of the situation on the ground, according to a US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

A family crosses from pro-Russian separatists controlled territory to Ukrainian government controlled areas in Stanytsia Luhanska.

The administration resisted initially calling the deployment of troops because the White House wanted to see what Russia was actually going to do.

After assessing Russian troop movements, it became clear it was a new invasion, the official added.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also alluded to the Russian action as being an invasion in a twitter post commenting on Germany chancellor Olaf Scholz decision to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in response to Russia’s actions.

The US president “made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would action would act with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward,” Ms Psaki said.

Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces during training at a former asphalt factory on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine.

For weeks, Western powers have been bracing for an invasion as Russia massed an estimated 150,000 troops on three sides of neighbouring Ukraine.

They warned an attack would cause massive casualties, energy shortages in Europe and economic chaos around the globe — and promised swift and severe sanctions if it materialised.

The European Union and Britain announced on Tuesday that some of those measures were coming.

Western leaders have long warned Moscow would look for cover to invade — and just such a pretext appeared to come on Monday, when Putin recognised as independent two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, where government troops have fought Russia-backed rebels in a conflict that has killed over 14,000 people.

The Kremlin then raised the stakes further on Tuesday, by saying that recognition extends even to the large parts now held by Ukrainian forces.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia has recognised the rebel regions’ independence “in borders that existed when they proclaimed” their independence in 2014 — broad territories that extend far beyond the areas now under the rebel control and that include the major Azov Sea port of Mariupol.

World reaction to Russia

Condemnation from around the world was quick. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would consider breaking diplomatic ties with Russia and Kyiv recalled its ambassador in Moscow.

But confusion over what exactly was happening in eastern Ukraine threatened to hobble a Western response.

While the US clearly called it an invasion, some other allies hedged.

“Russian troops have entered in Donbas,” the name for the area where the two separatist regions are located, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Paris.

“We consider Donbas part of Ukraine.”

But in a distinction that could complicate a European and Western response, he added: “I wouldn’t say that (it is) a fully fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced sanctions against Russia.

Poland’s Defence Ministry and British Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said Russian forces had entered Ukraine’s east, with Javid telling Sky News that “the invasion of Ukraine has begun.”

Not all in Europe saw it that way. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares noted “if Russia uses force against Ukraine, sanctions will be massive.”

The Kremlin hasn’t confirmed any troop deployments to the rebel east, saying it will depend on the security situation.

Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, told reporters that the Russian troops already had moved in, but more senior rebel leaders didn’t confirm that.

In response to the moves thus far, top EU officials said the bloc was prepared to impose sanctions on several Russian officials and banks financing the Russian armed forces and move to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.

They gave few details.

EU foreign ministers are meeting later on Tuesday to discuss the measures — but they did not appear to include the massive punishment repeatedly promised in case of a full-fledged invasion.

Protesters hold a banner reading stop Putin stop war in Berlin, Germany.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the UK would slap sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals.

Mr Johnson said Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers have been spotted in the separatist Ukrainian regions recognised as independent by President Putin.

He said that amounts to “a renewed invasion” of Ukraine.

Mr Johnson said nations including the UK, France, Germany and the US had “tried to find a peaceful way through this crisis,” but “by denying Ukraine’s legitimacy as a state … Putin is establishing the pretext for a full-scale offensive.”

Passengers board a train at a Kyiv Metro station in Kyiv, Ukraine.

“We must now brace ourselves for the next possible stages of Putin’s plan: the violent subversion of areas of eastern Ukraine by Russian operatives and their hirelings, followed by a general offensive by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops gathered on the frontiers, at peak readiness to attack,” he told the UK Parliament.

The White House has also moved to respond, issuing an executive order to prohibit US investment and trade in the separatist regions, and additional measures — likely sanctions — were to be announced on Tuesday.

Those sanctions are independent of what Washington has prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

The Russian moves also pushed Germany to suspend the certification process for Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was to bring natural gas from Russia.

The pipeline was built to help Germany meet its energy needs, particularly as it switches off its last three nuclear power plants and phases out the use of coal, and it has resisted calls by the US and others to halt the project.

Children evacuated from the Donetsk region, the territory controlled by a pro-Russia separatist governments in eastern Ukraine, are seen through a train window as they wait to be taken to temporary housing, at the railway station in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.German Bundeswehr soldiers of the NATO enhanced forward presence battalion waits to greet German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht upon her arrival at the Rukla military base 100 kms (62.12 miles) west of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania.

Even as alarm spread across the globe, Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, sought to project calm, telling the country in an address overnight: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we won’t give anything to anyone.”

His foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, will be in Washington on Tuesday to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the State Department said.

Russia has long denied it has any plans to invade Ukraine, instead blaming the US and its allies for the current crisis and describing Ukraine’s bid to join NATO as an existential challenge to Russia.

Mr Putin reiterated those accusations in an hour long televised speech on Monday, when he announced that Russia would recognise the rebels.

“Ukraine’s membership in NATO poses a direct threat to Russia’s security,” he said.

Russia says it wants Western guarantees that NATO won’t allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members.

A woman carries a child as they are evacuated from the Donetsk region, the territory controlled by pro-Russia separatist government in eastern Ukraine, as they leave a train to be taken to temporary accommodations, at the railway station in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia.

Moscow has also demanded the alliance halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe — demands flatly rejected by the West.

Mr Putin warned on Monday that the Western rejection of Moscow’s demands gives Russia the right to take other steps to protect its security.

Source: 9News