Putin: «Independence for Donetsk and Lugansk». What happens now?

Vladimir Putin announced the decision to recognize the two Russian-speaking secessionist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, Ukraine, as independent entities: a step that brings the prospect of a war between Russia and Ukraine closer

BERLIN – Vladimir Putin – as revealed by the Kremlin – has announced to the leaders of Germany and France the intention to sign a decree in the near future that will recognize the two Russian-speaking secessionist republics of Donetsk and Lungansk as States independent.

Putin – in a speech to the nation – also explained how, in his view, Ukraine was never a real nation, and is now reduced to the level of a colony. [dell’Occidente] with a puppet regime.

So far, what is considered Moscow’s nuclear weapon in the Ukrainian match had remained in the background, evoked only by the non-binding vote of the Russian Duma on 15 February last.

Now for, in the umpteenth move of kuzushi – the movement that in judo serves to unbalance the opponent – the leader of the Kremlin, who in the Japanese martial arts black belt, has decided to use it, despite the appeal of Olaf Scholz and of Josep BorrellEU High Representative for Foreign Policy, the German Chancellor, who arrived a few minutes after Putin’s speech to the nation (who, together with the French president Emmanuel Macronexpressed their disappointment after hearing the news).

But what good is it and what could happen?

On the one hand, the decision to recognize Lugansk and Donetsk will have an almost zero practical impact in and per seresulting in recognition de jure (at least for Russian law) of a factual reality that has existed for eight years now.

But on the other hand, this would be tantamount to writing the final word on the Minsk trialthe international mediation carried out by France and Germany with Russia and Ukraine, aimed precisely at defining the status of the two territories within the political system of Ukraine.

So far, Putin has in fact treated Lugansk and Donetsk as part of the Ukrainian state, despite the Kremlin providing them with undercover military security and financial support. By keeping its military activities in these territories in the gray zone of hybrid warfare, Moscow can at least publicly describe the ongoing Ukraine as a civil war and regard the Russian-speaking separatists as internal actors.

Having crossed the Rubicon of recognition, there is now another consequence, certainly more serious even if initially only theoretical: the green light for the presence of Russian troops in the Lugansk and Donetsk territories.

In fact, it would be enough a formal request for help from them to Moscow, to intervene to protect the Russian-speaking population and in many cases Russian, since so many inhabitants of the region already have a Russian passport.

Of course, the Kremlin would need justification, given the existence of a ceasefire albeit continuously violated on the line of contact. But for Putin, a specialist in fake news, it would not be an insurmountable obstacle.

Would it be an invasion? Moscow would try to say that it is not, as military intervention would be required and limited to the territory of the two breakaway republics and technically it would not be an action against Ukraine (at least from the point of view of Russian law).

Furthermore, in terms of costs and risks, this limited military option would have the advantage for the Kremlin to be conducted in non-hostile territory and at an infinitely lower economic cost than an invasion that has Kiev as its goal.

But Putin also knows that the West would not accept this fiction: sanctions would be triggered massively, hitting Russia’s economy hard and isolating it in the international community.

Recognizing Lugansk and Donetsk therefore for the Kremlin an alternative to the scenario of invading and occupying the whole of Ukraine, which in theory leaves a military card in Putin’s hands.

In between, groped to avert them both, there is diplomacy.

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