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Putin orders troops to head towards Ukraine sepretist regions after declaring their independence

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops Monday to “maintain peace” in two separatist territories in eastern Ukraine shortly after recognizing the Russian-backed areas as independent, stoking fears that a Russian invasion could be coming soon.

The Kremlin decree signed by Putin did not specify whether or when Russian troops would enter Ukrainian territory. It came as President Joe Biden signed an executive order to sanction any Americans who invest in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, the two breakaway areas that Putin recognized as independent.

Putin’s moves further inflamed tensions with the West amid fears of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The developments led the U.N. Security Council to schedule an emergency meeting Monday night at the request of Ukraine, the United States and six other countries. Russia, which currently holds the rotating council presidency, has scheduled it for 9 p.m. New York time.

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In Washington, a senior Biden administration official accused Putin of seeking to “justify a war” during a rambling, hourlong speech in which he incorrectly claimed that Ukraine was only the product of power-brokering during the beginning of the Soviet Union.

More:Is Russia going to invade Ukraine? Satellite images show the latest Russian troop movements

Yet it was unclear whether Putin’s “peacekeeping” operations in the eastern Donbas region would trigger the full-fledged “severe” sanctions that Biden has threatened if Putin invades Ukraine.

The U.S. will “observe and assess” what Russia does next, the U.S. official said. But, the official said, “Russian troops moving into Donbas by itself would not be a new step” because Russian forces have been in the region for eight years.

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Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, sought to project calm, telling the country: “We are not afraid of anyone or anything. We don’t owe anyone anything. And we won’t give anything to anyone.”

– Joey Garrison, AP

Where things stand

  • Putin orders troops into Ukraine

Putin ordered troops Monday to “maintain peace” in two separatist territories in the eastern Ukraine shortly after recognizing the Russian-backed areas as independent, stoking fears that a Russian invasion could be coming soon.  A Kremlin decree signed by Putin did not specify whether or when Russian troops would enter Ukrainian territory. .

  • Biden signs limited sanctions after Putin

Biden signed an executive order Monday implementing minor economic sanctions banning U.S. trade and investments in Donetsk and Luhansk in response to Putin recognizing the independence of the separatist regions. The White House made clear that these are not the full-fledged sanctions the U.S. and allies are prepared to take if Russia conducts a fell-scale invasion.

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  • US: Putin’s speech was designed to ‘justify war’

The Biden administration accused Putin of seeking to “justify a war” in his speech Monday before the Russian president recognized two separatist parts of eastern Ukraine as independent. In a speech aired on Russian state television, Putin called it “madness” that Ukraine has independence during his hourlong speech, incorrectly claiming that the country was only the product of power-brokering during the beginning of the Soviet Union.

  • UN Security Council holds emergency meeting

Monday’s developments led the U.N. Security Council to schedule an emergency meeting Monday night at the request of Ukraine, the U.S. and six other countries.  The meeting was set to begin at 9 p.m. EST.

  • US diplomats relocating

US diplomats in Ukraine will temporarily relocate to Poland, although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said those personnel will “regularly return” to continue diplomatic work.

— Joey Garrison

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US diplomats relocating to Poland

American diplomats stationed in Ukraine will temporarily relocate to Poland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday, amid fears of an imminent Russian invasion.

“For security reasons, Department of State personnel currently in Lviv will spend the night in Poland,” Blinken said. “Our personnel will regularly return to continue their diplomatic work in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services.”

Blinken made the announcement after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian forces to “maintain peace” in eastern Ukraine. It was not immediately clear if troops would enter Ukrainian territory, but the Biden administration has been warning for weeks that Russia plans to invade its neighbor.

The State Department has urged Americans in Ukraine to leave the country – a message Blinken reiterated on Monday.

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“The security situation in Ukraine continues to be unpredictable throughout the country and may deteriorate with little notice.  There is a strong likelihood that any Russian military operations would severely restrict commercial air travel,” Blinken said.

He said Russian troops have continued to move closer to the border “in what looks like plans for an invasion at any moment” and included an ominous message to Americans who choose to remain in Ukraine.

“In the event of an attack, U.S. citizens should seek shelter in a hardened structure and monitor major news outlets for guidance on when it is safe to move,” he said.

— Deirdre Shesgreen

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US: Putin’s speech was designed to ‘justify war’

The Biden administration accused Vladimir Putin of seeking to “justify a war” in his speech Monday before the Russian president recognized two separatist parts of eastern Ukraine as independent.

In an address on Russian state television, Putin made several false claims that seem “designed to excuse possible military action,” a senior Biden administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters. “This was a speech to the Russian people to justify a war.”

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