Updated Feb 22, 2022 - World

Russia to evacuate embassy staff from Ukraine as Putin signals war is coming

Putin
Photo: Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images

Russia's foreign ministry announced it will evacuate its embassy staff from Ukraine as soon as possible, citing "repeated attacks" by Ukrainians since 2014.

The big picture: The evacuation comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his clearest indication yet that Russian troops would launch an invasion further into Ukraine, saying the borders of the separatist "republics" he recognized on Monday extend to territory currently controlled by Ukrainian forces. [Read the latest updates.]

Why it matters: Western officials fear that Putin's recognition of the territories and deployment of "peacekeepers" is only the beginning, paving the way for a wider assault in eastern Ukraine and potentially the rest of the country.

  • Ukraine currently controls about two-thirds of the territory claimed by the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (D/LPR), which declared independence in 2014 but were driven back by a military offensive.
  • The borders that D/LPR declared in 2014 include, for example, Mariupol — a key Ukrainian port and a city of around 430,000 people.

Driving the news: The upper house of Russia's parliament granted Putin's request on Tuesday to deploy military force outside of the country, authorizing action both in the contested Donbas region and potentially elsewhere in Ukraine.

  • Russian "peacekeepers" crossed the border overnight into territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by the separatists, following Putin's announcement that he would recognize D/LPR, according to EU and NATO officials.
  • "Every indication is that Russia is continuing to plan for a full-scale attack," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
  • Putin said at a press conference on Tuesday that Russian forces may not immediately advance into the two "republics," but that "it is impossible to predict the scenario that will unfold."

Between the lines: Putin continued to baselessly claim that Ukraine is the aggressor, suggesting that the "anti-Russian" government in Kyiv is a threat to Russia's security and could eventually pursue nuclear weapons.

  • He suggested that a possible de-escalation could be achieved if Ukraine demilitarizes, recognizes Russia's annexation of Crimea and pledges never to join NATO — all of which are non-starters for Kyiv.
  • Putin also declared that the Minsk agreements — negotiated in 2014 and 2015 in an attempt to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine — were no longer relevant, though he claimed they were dead long before this week due to Ukraine's intransigence.

State of play: The U.S. and its European allies have begun to unveil sanctions against Russia over what the U.S. now says is an active invasion, but they have not yet triggered the "massive" sanctions package they have been threatening.

Go deeper: The latest developments and key remaining questions.

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