Where Are Donetsk and Luhansk and What Does Putin Want There?

Russian President Vladimir Putin ratcheted up tensions over Ukraine by announcing he’s recognizing a pair of self-proclaimed separatist republics in eastern Ukraine. He also said that he’ll send “peacekeeping forces” to the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, fueling U.S. and European concern that Moscow is moving to take control of land internationally recognized as part of Ukraine.

Russia denies any plans to attack the country, while Putin said that he was not interested in annexed areas. Here’s a closer look at the territories and why they are now at the center of attention:

What are the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics?

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They were once Ukraine’s industrial heartland, part of largely Russian-speaking provinces in the nation’s southeast. Russia-backed separatists seized control of the regions along the two nations’ border after the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president, a move that coincided with Russia annexing Crimea in 2014. According to data from the government, fighting in Ukraine has resulted in approximately 14,000 deaths and more than 1.4million internally displaced persons.

Continue reading: Russia orders troops into Ukraine because of fear of war

The rebels hold about one third of the provinces, calling them the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR). They were not recognized by any other country until Russia. Russia has provided them with military and financial support ever since they were formed, as well as granting Russian passports for hundreds of thousands.

Advanced posts of Lugansk People's Militia in Lugansk Region
Alexander Reka TAS via Getty Images A serviceman of the People’s Militia of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) is seen at a frontline position near the village of Sokolniki, Slavyanoserbsk District on Feb. 3, 2022.

What is Russia’s interest in Donetsk and Luhansk?

Russia wants Donetsk and Luhansk to gain autonomy that gives them an effective veto over major shifts in Ukraine’s orientation—namely the Western integration backed by a sizable majority of the country’s 41 million population. That would be political suicide for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who’s struggling to boost economic growth and curb corruption. He told diplomats that Ukraine needs a “very clear perspective” about its NATO membership, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the alliance continues to support Ukraine’s efforts to become a member.

Continue reading: The Ukraine Crisis: An Untold Story

International monitors have found that the cease-fire is unstable and subject to thousands of violations per year. In a hair-trigger situation, with thousands of Russian troops massing along Ukraine’s borders, this is the most likely source of a spark for a wider conflict. Russia offered citizenship to residents in the separatist areas, which could justify further actions.

What does Europe’s Ukraine crisis signify?

If U.S. warnings of an invasion are borne out, it could mark the worst European security crisis since World War II, dwarfing the tensions triggered by Putin’s takeover of Crimea and the earlier fighting in eastern Ukraine. E.U., U.S. The U.K. and E.U. are currently preparing a set of sanctions in case Russia invades. Potential measures include targeting its billionaires, extra restrictions on sovereign debt, disrupting lenders’ ability to use dollars or blocking the new Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

The West also has invested a lot financially in Ukraine’s success. International Monetary Fund (IMF) has supported the country, the World Bank and European Union have contributed billions, while the U.S. provided military assistance and loan guarantees.


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