Following the outbreak of hostilities between the Ukrainian Military and the separatist forces of the self proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early hours of February 22nd ordered the Russian Military into Ukraine. This was announced by Russian state media as a deployment for peacekeeping purposes in Donetsk. It followed a decision hours before on February 21st to recognise the Donetsk People’s Republic and the nearby Lugansk People’s Republic, both in eastern Ukraine and bordering Russia, as independent countries. Moscow previously refrained from doing since the two declared independence in 2014. Ukraine has been in a state of civil war since 2014, when the country’s government was overthrow and a new more overly pro-Western one installed which led the predominantly ethnically Russian populations of Donetsk and Lugansk to seek greater autonomy. The Russian government and President Putin himself have on multiple occasions accused the Ukrainian government of carrying out a genocide or actions resembling it against the country’s Russian minority. The extent of Russian military involvement, including whether forces deployed to Eastern Ukraine will be receiving air support, confronting Ukrainian forces directly, or advising People’s Republic forces, all remain uncertain.
Russia has increased military deployments to its Western borders facing NATO and Ukraine over several months, as well as to bases in neighbouring Belarus and to Khmeimim Airbase in Syria which faces NATO positions over the Mediterranean Sea. Many of these assets have been relocated from the country’s far eastern regions where more positive relations with neighbours such as China and the Koreas have made reduced military presences possible. Officials from NATO member states have warned for several weeks that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent, although Russian forces may not move beyond the Donetsk and Lugansk regions which Moscow no longer recognises as part of Ukraine and which have not been controlled by Kiev for close to eight years. The fact that Ukrainian attacks on Lugansk have seen Russian territory fired on provide some pretext for intervention, although NATO members are likely to consider greater support for Kiev and more economic sanctions in Russia as responses.