Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday his recognition of the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. These areas have long been commanded by Russia-backed forces, which last week asked Putin to recognize the areas.
Julie Wilhelmsen is a senior researcher at the Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute (NUPI), who has followed closely the increasingly tense situation in Ukraine. She believes that recognition of Luhansk and Donetsk was hardly Putin’s main wish, but it came in light of the Minsk Agreement, which was becoming increasingly difficult to implement.
After the many demands made by Russia in December, I recently tried to push the Minsk agreement forward, because I think that would be Putin’s favorite scenario. But they did not succeed, especially since the United States was passive on the agreement. Then Russia tried several other agents of the press, and recognized that Luhansk and Donetsk were possible when Donetsk made this proposal to Putin himself last week, Wilhelmsen said.
The senior researcher believes that Putin’s latest move is similar to the situation in Georgia in 2008, where Russia recognized two separate states after expressing its desire for independence.
– In the same way, you now get a false international law for calling you a foreign power. Russia can point out that this is not the annexation of Ukraine, but the recognition of small breakaway states. Now Luhansk and Donetsk will have the right to request military assistance from Russia, after which Russia can transfer troops to Ukraine, says Wilhelmsen, who emphasized that the situation is serious.
– For Ukraine, it is very dangerous, because now they may lose their land. If you compare the situation in Georgia, then this is much more serious. The population of Georgia was non-Russian, while these breakaway republics of Ukraine are largely Russian-speaking. This is clearly dangerous for Kiev, says Wilhelmsen.
Now Russia and Putin are redrawing European borders, the researcher says, receiving support from Geir Olfstein, professor of international law at UiO.
– This is a clear deterioration in international law. Putin’s annexation of Crimea was a violation of international law, and military intervention in those two areas is also a violation of international law in and of itself, says Olfstein.
It is believed that the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk could end up in Crimea, which has been controlled by Russian separatists since 2014.
The obvious scenario is that we got Crimea version 2.0. The next step, says Professor Holtsmark, is for these so-called republics to become part of Russia.
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Wilhelmsen asserts in Newbies that recognition is a high, calculated game of Putin and the Kremlin.
This says something about how much risk Russia is willing to take in avoiding Ukraine’s membership in NATO. At the same time, it also says something about the Kremlin’s belief that Western countries, at least militarily, will not do anything to change this, says senior researcher Wilhelmsen.
The senior researcher believes that any chance of implementing the Minsk Agreement will now be impossible to implement. Besides recognizing Luhansk and Donetsk, this is bad news for Ukraine.
– Now the Minsk Agreement is dead and is no longer an alternative. The situation could have been better for Ukraine, because it wanted to preserve its borders and territories. Recognition is particularly problematic, as it appears less dramatic. Then the NATO countries would not be obligated to defend Ukraine with weapons, which would be different if Russia went into a major invasion.
Wilhelmsen is cautious about anticipating how this will affect the conflict further, but it is clearly Ukraine that is losing.
– It happens in a sneaky and quiet way, just like with Crimea, which will not provoke any military reaction. The big question now, says Wilhelmsen, which we don’t know yet, is whether this leads to what are being referred to as “sanctions hell” from the West against Russia.
She points out that both the European Union and the United States have deliberately chosen to distinguish between the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the consequences of Russia’s recognition of Ukrainian territory, as we now see.
– That is the big question here, because the comprehensive package of sanctions will seriously harm the Russian economy. It also shows how willing Russia and Putin are to take risks now. But these so-called punishments from hell are connected with conquest, and the punishments to be imposed by confession are not specified, Wilhelmsen concludes.
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