How Far Do Putin’s Recognition Orders Extend?

Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives start to training launches of ballistic missiles as part of the exercise of the strategic deterrence force, in Moscow, Russia February 19, 2022.
(Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via Reuters)

During his hour-long address today, Russian president Vladimir Putin articulated the historical grievances that purportedly led him to his decision to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two Russia-backed breakaway regions in Ukraine’s east.

Most of the speech was laying out the case for that move and, more important, a broader campaign to destroy the Ukrainian state and potentially eliminate all of its supporters within the country if Russia does invade and occupy it in the future.

After the speech, Putin signed orders recognizing the two breakaway territories as independent and pledging Russian defense assistance. The particulars of that order, which aren’t yet known, matter a lot.

Ukraine still controls part of the territory that historically made up the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts — Kyiv controls territory that the Moscow-backed governments in those two regions claim as their own. That includes the city of Mariupol, which has a population of nearly 500,000 residents.

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The important question here is whether the order applies only to territory currently held by the breakaway regions or beyond the front lines of the current war in eastern Ukraine.

It’s worth noting that during the highly staged meeting of Russia’s Security Council that preceded Putin’s speech, Russian officials advised him to recognize all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, so the portions beyond the separatist governments’ currently held territory.

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