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U.N. leaders condemn Putin after he orders 'peacekeepers' to Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of his security council in Moscow on Monday.
Alexey Nikolsky
Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of his security council in Moscow on Monday.

Russia's action was universally condemned in an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, which concluded with no action taken.

Updated February 21, 2022 at 3:51 PM ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin is asking for Russian lawmakers to recognize two Ukrainian regions as independent, raising fears that Russia is paving the way for an attack. The Biden administration announced that the U.S. will respond with limited economic sanctions, with more to come.

Putin's declaration names the two regions the Luhansk People's Republic and the Donetsk People's Republic. Both are unrecognized territories carved out by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine after fighting broke out there against Ukrainian government forces in 2014.

In a highly staged meeting earlier Monday, Putin met with members of his security council, who urged the president to take this action, citing Ukrainian intransigence on implementing the Minsk accords signed in 2015. That agreement set out a series of military and political steps designed to resolve the status of these two breakaway regions and end the conflict there.

The rebel leaders of the self-proclaimed republics urged Putin earlier on Monday to recognize their independence and provide security guarantees.

The announcement is a serious escalation that effectively kills the Minsk accords, which many have believed could help find a diplomatic way out of the current standoff. This move also could allow the Russian-backed separatists who run the region to invite in Russian troops.

President Biden will issue an executive order to "prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine," according to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki. The statement says the order will allow for sanctions to be imposed on anyone violating the order and that the departments of State and Treasury will share more details shortly.

Psaki says the administration will have more announcements soon "related to today's blatant violation of Russia's international commitments" that are separate from the economic consequences to be imposed if Russia invades Ukraine.

Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held a call Monday afternoon and spoke for about 35 minutes, according to a White House official. The White House said that Biden had also convened a call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Putin called Scholz and Macron earlier Monday to announce that he would recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Berlin. Scholz said in a statement that he told Putin that any such move would amount to a one-sided breach of the Minsk agreements. The German chancellor also urged Putin to pull Russian troops from Ukraine's border to de-escalate tensions.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, called the recognition of the territories "a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements."

Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel said in a statement that the European Union will react with "sanctions against those involved in this illegal act."

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Putin's announcement "yet another indication that things are moving in the wrong direction in Ukraine," the BBC reported. The U.K. will "continue to do everything we can to stand by the people of Ukraine," he said, including preparing sanctions and fortifying NATO's eastern flank.

Liz Truss, the U.K. Foreign Secretary, said Putin's move signals "Russia's decision to choose a path of confrontation over dialogue."

"We will coordinate our response with Allies. We will not allow Russia's violation of its international commitments to go unpunished," Truss said in a statement.

A U.S. congressional delegation, recently returned from the Munich Security Conference, pledged support to Ukraine.

"We as a bipartisan delegation will bring home the same unity and resolve we have seen among our Atlantic allies against Russian aggression. We pledge to work toward whatever emergency supplemental legislation will best support our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine, and support freedom and safety around the world. No matter what happens in the coming days, we must assure that the dictator Putin and his corrupt oligarchs pay a devastating price for their decisions," the delegation said in a statement.

Russia has claimed that the situation along the contact line in Donbas has been deteriorating in recent days. Putin has said Ukraine is committing a "genocide" there and he could send troops in to supposedly save its people. The United States has described these claims as a false-flag operation aimed at creating a pretext for an invasion.

The U.S. has said Russia has amassed up to 190,000 troops on the border with Ukraine.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.