The latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis

By Helen Regan, Brad Lendon, Rob Picheta, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0629 GMT (1429 HKT) February 22, 2022
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3:05 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Putin signed decrees recognizing separatist-held regions. Here's why that's significant.

From CNN's Tamara Qiblawi, Nathan Hodge, Ivana Kottasová, Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

People are evacuated to Russia from the Donetsk People's Republic on February 19.
People are evacuated to Russia from the Donetsk People's Republic on February 19. (Andrey Borodulin/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees recognizing two controversial separatist-held regions, the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic, Monday in a ceremony carried on state television.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously promised “a swift and firm response” from the US and allies and partners if Russia moves to recognize Ukraine’s breakaway regions as part of Russian territory, calling such a move a “gross violation of international law.”

Here's why the recognition of the separatist-held regions is significant:

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

The separatist-controlled areas in Donbas became known as the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts the two regions are in effect Russian-occupied. The self-declared republics are not recognized by any government, including Russia. The Ukrainian government refuses to talk directly with either separatist republic.

The Minsk II agreement of 2015 led to a shaky ceasefire agreement, and the conflict settled into static warfare along the Line of Contact that separates the Ukrainian government and separatist-controlled areas. The Minsk Agreements (named after the capital of Belarus where they were concluded) ban heavy weapons near the Line of Contact.

Language around the conflict is heavily politicized. The Ukrainian government calls separatist forces "invaders" and "occupiers." Russian media calls separatist forces "militias" and maintains that they are locals defending themselves against the Kyiv government.

More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict in Donbas since 2014. Ukraine says 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, with most staying in the areas of Donbas that remain under Ukrainian control and about 200,000 resettling in the wider Kyiv region.

2:59 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Putin signs decrees recognizing separatist regions in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Darya Tarasov in Moscow

People from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions watch an address by Russian President Vladimir Putin from their temporary housing in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on February 21.
People from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions watch an address by Russian President Vladimir Putin from their temporary housing in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on February 21. (Denis Kaminev/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees recognizing the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic Monday in a ceremony carried on state television.  

Earlier in the day, the heads of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian republics requested the Kremlin leader recognize their independence and sovereignty.

Members of Putin's Security Council supported the initiative in a meeting the same day.

Putin directed parliament to recognize the separatist regions and ratify treaties of friendship, following a lengthy address in which he accused the US and NATO of attempting to turn Ukraine into a military outpost to threaten Russia.

"I consider it necessary to make a long overdue decision: to immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic," Putin said.

"I ask the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation to support this decision, and then to ratify the treaties of friendship and mutual assistance with both republics. These two documents will be prepared and signed in the very near future. And from those who seized and hold power in Kyiv, we demand an immediate cessation of hostilities. Otherwise, all responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine," he continued.

"Announcing the decisions taken today, I am confident in the support of the citizens of Russia and all the patriotic forces of the country. Thank you for your attention," the Russian leader added.

You can read more here about the separatist regions and why they have become a key part of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

2:57 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

German Chancellor Scholz condemns Putin's plans to recognize separatist regions in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans to recognize the so-called Donesk and Luhansk People's Republics as independent states, Scholz told Putin during a call on Monday. 

"Such a step would be in stark contradiction to the Minsk Agreements for the peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and would be a unilateral breach of these agreements on the part of Russia," Scholz's office said in a statement, tweeted by the Germany’s Permanent Representation to the EU Sebastian Fischer. 

During the phone call, Scholz called on Putin "to immediately de-escalate the situation and withdraw the massive forces from the border with Ukraine. He stressed that it was now particularly important to observe the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine & to de-escalate." 

According to the statement, Scholz is consulting with his closest partners, including his French and Ukrainian counterparts. 

2:07 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Putin delivers an address laced with historical grievances

From CNN's Nathan Hodge and Darya Tarasova 

(Reuters)
(Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered lengthy remarks on Soviet history and the formation of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic under Communist rule in the 20th Century.

Here are a few quotes from the remarks

  • "Let's start with the fact that modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia, more precisely, by the Bolshevik, communist Russia. This process began almost immediately after the 1917 revolution," Putin said.
  • "Then, on the eve and after the Second World War, Stalin already annexed to the USSR and transferred to Ukraine some lands that previously belonged to Poland, Romania and Hungary," Putin said.
  • "And in 1954, for some reason, Khrushchev took Crimea from Russia and gave it to Ukraine. Actually, this is how the territory of Soviet Ukraine was formed," Putin said.

Putin published a tendentious essay on Ukrainian and Russian history last summer, in what was widely viewed as a pretext for escalating pressure on Ukraine.

3:30 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

EU foreign policy chief urges Putin to not recognize the independence of separatist republics of Donbas

From CNN's Pierre Bairin

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to not recognize the separatist self-declared republics of Donbas.  

"We call upon President Putin to respect international law and the Minsk agreements and expect him not to recognize the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblast. And we are ready to react with a strong united front in case he should decide to do so,” said Borrell at a press conference on Monday following a meeting of EU’s foreign ministers in Brussels.  

Putin informed French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz by phone that he intends to sign a decree "soon" to recognize two breakaway pro-Russian territories — which call themselves the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics — the Kremlin said Monday. 

“It will be soon, eight years since Russia invaded an illegally annexed Crimea. And they want to repeat when again that any further aggression against Ukraine will have a strong answer from the European Union,” Borrell said.

The EU's top diplomat also said that Russia had created “the biggest threat to peace and stability in Europe since the Second World War.” 

“The staged events and information manipulation are clearly aimed at creating a pretext for military escalations against Ukraine. It's a classical way of behaving. You create a pretext for military escalations," Borrell continued.  

The EU foreign policy chief said that a strong response from the European Union would also apply to Belarus “should an attack be conducted from its territory or with its involvement.”

1:55 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

NOW: Putin delivers address

(Reuters)
(Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin is delivering an address now from Moscow.

The Kremlin said Monday Putin informed French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz by phone that he intends to sign a decree "soon" to recognize the separatist self-declared republics of Donbas.

2:06 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Blinken has previously promised a "swift and firm response" if Russia recognizes Ukraine's breakaway regions

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Munich on February 19.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Munich on February 19. (Ina Fassbender/Pool/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously promised “a swift and firm response” from the US and allies and partners if Russia moves to recognize Ukraine’s breakaway regions as part of Russian territory, calling such a move a “gross violation of international law.”

“To be clear: Kremlin approval of this appeal would amount to the Russian government’s wholesale rejection of its commitments under the Minsk agreements, which outline the process for the full political, social, and economic reintegration of those parts of Ukraine’s Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces and political proxies since 2014,” Blinken said last week when this topic was under discussion in the Russian Duma. 

“Enactment of this resolution would further undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, constitute a gross violation of international law, call into further question Russia’s stated commitment to continue to engage in diplomacy to achieve a peaceful resolution of this crisis, and necessitate a swift and firm response from the United States in full coordination with our Allies and partners,” Blinken wrote. 

The State Department has not elaborated on what that “swift and firm response” would entail.

The department also did not immediately respond to request for comment about the Kremlin saying that Putin has informed French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that he intends to sign a decree "soon" to recognize the separatist self-declared republics of Donbas.

Blinken also said Sunday that the US would not consider recognizing any of the breakaway territories of eastern Ukraine to be part of Russia as a means to avoid a larger war. 

US officials have privately expected that Russia could move to recognize these territories, but they have also said that they do not expect Russia to stop there, based on the massive Russian troop buildup all around Ukraine.

2:05 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

France's Macron calls national security and defense meeting on Russia-Ukraine crisis 

From CNN’s Xiaofei Xu in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday called a national defense and security meeting to address the latest developments on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, according to the Elysee Palace. The meeting started at 7 p.m. local time (1 p.m. ET) Monday. 

Macron on Monday has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, twice with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“There will be other contacts in the evening,” the Elysee Palace said.

2:14 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Putin told Scholz and Macron he intends to sign decree recognizing separatist-held regions, Kremlin says 

From CNN's Darya Tarasova and Nathan Hodge in Moscow 

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a national security meeting in Moscow on February 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a national security meeting in Moscow on February 21. (Alexei Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin/Pool/AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin informed French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz by phone that he intends to sign a decree "soon" to recognize the separatist self-declared republics of Donbas, the Kremlin said Monday.

"Vladimir Putin informed them about the results of the expanded meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, which considered the current situation around Donbas in the context of the State Duma's decision on the recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics," the Kremlin statement said. "Today, the leadership of the DPR and LPR received appeals to recognize their sovereignty in connection with the military aggression of the Ukrainian authorities, the massive shelling of the territory of Donbas, as a result of which the civilian population is suffering." 

Putin said that he intended to sign a corresponding decree soon, the Kremlin added.

According to the Kremlin readout, the French and German leaders "expressed their disappointment with this development. At the same time, they indicated their readiness to continue contacts."

More background: The separatist-controlled areas in Donbas are known as the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). 

The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts the two regions are in effect Russian-occupied. The self-declared republics are not recognized by any government, including Russia. The Ukrainian government refuses to talk directly with either separatist republic.

Read more here about the separatist regions and why they are at the heart of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Here's a map showing where the separatist regions are located: