Lviv and Kyiv, Ukraine, and Moscow CNN  — 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized two separatist territories in eastern Ukraine as independent states, ordering the deployment of Russian troops there in a dangerous gambit that defies international law and risks a deadly military confrontation.

The Kremlin’s decree recognizing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, is a sharp escalation in a long-running conflict.

For almost eight years the breakaway enclaves have been the site of a low-intensity war between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces which has left more than 14,000 people dead.

But Putin’s decision to send forces into the area has raised fears of a broader war in Ukraine. Here’s a look at how the conflict started:

What’s the recent history in Donbas?

War broke out in 2014 after Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Intense fighting left portions of Luhansk and Donetsk, in the Donbas region, in the hands of Russian-backed separatists. Russia also annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that sparked global condemnation.

Russian-backed rebels seized a government building in Donetsk, Ukraine on April 11, 2014.

The separatist-controlled areas in Donbas became known as the Luhansk and the Donetsk People’s Republics. The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts the two regions are, in effect, Russian-occupied. The self-declared republics are not recognized by any governments, other than Russia and its close ally Syria. The Ukrainian government refuses to talk directly with either separatist republic.