Russian military units officially entered Eastern Ukraine on Monday after Vladimir Putin’s government formally recognized the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. The move comes after weeks of speculation over a potential Russian invasion.
Just hours after formally recognizing the breakaway states, Putin dispatched Russian “peacekeepers” to the Donbas region. Multiple cell phone videos reportedly show Russian military convoys complete with artillery, tanks and armored personnel carriers making their way towards Donetsk. Amongst the convoys are several busses, which may be filled with Russian troops. The busses could also be filled with returning refugees who left the region after the 2014 conflict, experts say.
— Zeitung (@Himat75) February 21, 2022
During Putin's speech in Donetsk , tanks and buses with military entered. pic.twitter.com/yGQG1Qt5ug
— ZOKA (@200_zoka) February 21, 2022
Earlier in the day, Kremlin military officials claimed to have stopped a Ukrainian military incursion at the Russian border. Russian state TV displayed images of destroyed armored vehicle and claimed to have neutralized several “saboteurs.” Ukrainian rebels also reported intense shelling in the Luhansk region and called for Russian military intervention.
Ukraine has vehemently denied Russia’s allegations, however. “Not a single one of our soldiers has crossed the border with the Russian Federation, and not a single one has been killed today,” Anton Gerashchenko, an official at Ukraine’s interior ministry, told reporters on Monday.
U.S. intelligence has long contended that Russia would stage a false flag attack that would serve as pretext for an invasion of Eastern Ukraine. Following the “provocation”, Russia could intervene militarily under the guise of protecting the Russian-speaking population, who constitute the bulk of the Donbas region. Russia has used these tactics with past land grabs in Georgia and previously advanced similar justifications in 2014.
In response to the Russian incursion into an area internationally recognized as part of Ukraine, Kiev responded by mobilizing its own military units. Several Ukrainian military convoys have reportedly been converging on the region over the last few hours.
U.S. President Joe Biden responded by imposing economic sanctions on the Russian government. Biden also moved to block all commerce between U.S. citizens and the breakaway states of Eastern Ukraine. Though Biden did green light the deployment of over 3,000 additional troops to Eastern Europe last month, the Pentagon has said that U.S. troops will not be participating in any fighting.