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A Ukrainian commander in the frontline city of Avdiivka told BuzzFeed News that Ukrainian military leadership had not given any new orders in response to Putin’s move “except be covered with armor and watch for drones,” a tell-tale sign of an impending attack. The commander, who asked that his name not be used for security reasons, said he had watched with alarm as Putin spoke in Moscow and claimed that Ukraine was not a real country but merely a place invented by Russia and “the Bolsheviks.”
The commander said that his positions had been under heavy mortar fire for days and feared that the fighting there would now grow worse.
Shortly after Putin’s announcement, President Joe Biden called Zelensky and said he would impose further sanctions on Russia. “Kremlin recognition of the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’ as ‘independent’ requires a swift and firm response, and we will take appropriate steps in coordination with partners,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tweeted. The EU said there would be sanctions, and called the recognition a “blatant violation of international law.”
Putin waged war against his neighbor eight years ago saying he sees Ukraine as shifting too close to Western influence and also as a historic part of Russia. Since 2014, Putin has occupied the two territories in the country’s east and taken over Crimea, keeping the fighting at a grinding simmer and killing 14,000 people in the process.
The order came following numerous assurances by the Russian government that it was not planning to invade and months of diplomatic maneuvering on the part of Western governments and Kyiv to try to avert a new war. But week by week and month by month the evidence was there — Russia amassed an army of more than 157,000 troops and war machines around Ukraine as civilians prepared go-bags and spruced up bomb shelters.
Putin’s order is a direct rebuke to Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, NATO, and other Western allies.