President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered Russia’s military to act as peacekeepers in two breakaway regions of Ukraine, just hours after he recognized them as independent.
Putin’s recognition of the separatist republics as independent effectively buries a fragile 2015 peace plan for the conflict and opens the door for direct Russian military involvement.
In two official decrees, Putin instructed the defense ministry to assume “the function of peacekeeping” in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.
Moscow provided no details or date for any deployment, with the order saying only that it “comes into force from the day it was signed.”
Russia has in recent months moved tens of thousands of soldiers to regions near Ukraine’s borders, with the West saying Moscow plans to use them for an attack at any moment.
In the same document, Putin also ordered his foreign ministry to “establish diplomatic relations” with the “republics.”
The agreement, published by Russia’s lower house of parliament, “creates a legal basis for the presence on the territory (of the two regions) of Russian military formations, whose presence is necessary to maintain peace in the region and ensure reliable security.”
Both sides agreed to share military bases and jointly protect their borders, it said.
Earlier on Monday, the Russian leader demanded that Kyiv halt all its military operations against Moscow-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, or face more bloodshed.
Putin recognized the Donetsk and Lugansk separatist republics on Monday, despite repeated Western warnings that this would result in sanctions.