Updated at 0746 EATon February 22nd 2022.
MOSCOW, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the deployment of troops to two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine after recognising them as independent on Monday, accelerating a crisis the West fears could unleash a major war.
An HICGI witness saw tanks and other military hardware moving through the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk after Putin formally recognised the breakaway regions and ordered the deployment of Russian forces to “keep the peace”.
About five tanks were seen in a column on the edge of Donetsk and two more in another part of town, a Reuters reporter said. No insignia were visible on the vehicles.
Putin’s announcement drew international condemnation and immediate U.S. sanctions to halt U.S. business activity in the breakaway regions and ban import of all goods from those areas.
The measures were separate from sanctions the United States and its allies had prepared if Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
A senior U.S. official said the deployment to breakaway enclaves did not yet constitute a “further invasion” that would trigger the harshest sanctions as Russia already had forces there, but that a wider campaign could come at any time.
Britain, France and Germany also agreed to respond to Russia’s recognition of the breakaway regions with sanctions, and the White House said it would announce further measures on Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who received a solidarity call from U.S. President Joe Biden, accused Russia of wrecking peace talks and ruled out territorial concessions.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that Moscow’s recognition of the eastern regions was part of its attempt to create a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine.
“Tomorrow, the United States will impose sanctions on Russia for this clear violation of international law and Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she told reporters after the Security Council meeting on Monday evening.
“We can, will, and must stand united in our calls for Russia to withdraw its forces, return to the diplomatic table and work toward peace.”
The Russian U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, warned Western powers to “think twice” and not worsen the situation.
China called for all parties to exercise restraint while Japan said it was ready to join international sanctions on Moscow in the event of a full-scale invasion.
U.S. diplomatic staff, who had been moved from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv, were ordered to spend the night in Poland as the crisis deepened.