Ukraine-Russia conflict: five questions about the “friendship agreements” signed between Moscow and the self-proclaimed republics of Lugansk and Donetsk

A recognition of independence, reinforced by “friendship agreements”. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two pro-Russian breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine on Monday. In the process, the Russian deputies unanimously approved this text providing that Russia defends Lugansk and Donetsk, Tuesday, February 22. Those “agreements of friendship, cooperation and mutual aid” thus pave the way for a Russian military presence on Ukrainian territory.

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This announcement comes as Westerners fear an imminent invasion of Ukraine, on the borders of which more than 150,000 Russian soldiers, according to Washington, have been waiting for weeks. Franceinfo takes stock of these “friendship and mutual aid agreements” which could escalate the conflict.

1What did Vladimir Putin say in his televised speech on Monday?

Just before the agreements were signed on Monday evening, Vladimir Putin said in a speech on Russian television that he recognized “the independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic”, two pro-Russian separatist territories in eastern Ukraine.

In his 65-minute speech, Vladimir Putin reviewed the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations, laying out the thesis that Ukraine was a nation created from scratch in Soviet times with territories essentially taken from Russia. “Contemporary Ukraine was entirely and totally created by Bolshevik and Communist Russia”did he declare.

During the speech, he appeared threatening to the Ukrainian authorities, accusing them of orchestrating “a genocide that affects four million” of Russians or Russian speakers. Vladimir Poutine also evoked the possibility that Ukraine acquires nuclear weapons, because it has, according to him, the technical capacities because of its Soviet heritage.

>> The article to read to understand the tensions between Ukraine and Russia

Once again, the leader of the Kremlin also denounced the successive enlargements of NATO in the region, which Moscow considers a threat. The Russian president immediately urged Ukraine to immediately cease “his military operations” against the separatists or to assume “responsibility for continued bloodshed”.

2What do the agreements signed by Vladimir Putin contain?

Vladimir Putin signed two decrees recognizing the territories of Lugansk and Donetsk as “People’s Republics”, “sovereign and independent”. These documents also include “agreements of friendship, cooperation and mutual aid” between Russia and the two territories.

The agreements provide that “the armed forces of Russia (perform) peacekeeping functions on the territory” from “people’s republics” from Donetsk and Lugansk. these “set out the obligations of the parties to ensure mutual assistance if one of the parties is the target of an attack”and “provide for protection in common” borders. So they create “legal basis” for a Russian military presence in these Ukrainian regions. These mutual aid agreements are valid for a decade.

After his televised speech, Vladimir Putin welcomed to the Kremlin the leaders of the “People’s Republic of Donetsk” (DNR) and that of Lugansk (LNR), Denis Pushilin and Leonid Passetchnik, who had called on him earlier Monday to recognize the independence of the two territories.

3Which territories are we talking about exactly?

The delimitation of the claimed areas raised questions, after Vladimir Putin’s speech. Is it the current front line or the boundaries of the much larger Kyiv-defined administrative regions of Donetsk and Luhansk claimed by the separatists?

The oblasts (administrative regions) of Lugansk and Donetsk are located in eastern Ukraine, bordering Russia. Donetsk brings together 2.3 million inhabitants, and Lugansk 1.4 million inhabitants, i.e. a total of 3.7 million inhabitants for a total of 16,200 km², the equivalent of the area of ​​the Island de-France and the city of Nice combined. Together they form the Donbass region, which refers to the coal basin of the Donets River.

To distinguish the separatist zone from the rest of the region, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) draws up this map. In red, the front line identifies the partial separatist zone to the east. To the west, the city of Mariupol, the main Ukrainian port with access to the Sea of ​​Azov, is in non-separatist Ukrainian territory.

Map of the Ukrainian front line by the OSCE.  (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE))

According to the newspaper Releasethe Russian Interior Minister advised Vladimir Putin to recognize the “historic borders” Ukrainian separatist territories. This would therefore encompass the entire Donbass region and extend well beyond the current front line. However, the text submitted and validated by the Duma on Tuesday is vague.

Russian officials asked about the borders also gave evasive answers, according to Max Seddon, correspondent for the FinancialTimes in Russia, on Twitter (in English). Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “boundaries within which they exist and within which they have declared [l’indépendance]and then has “refused to go into details” when he was asked about the case of Mariupol for example. At the same time, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Roudenko, spoke of the borders of the “courts” (and therefore the whole of Donbass), in front of journalists.

Vladimir Putin himself clarified his intentions on Tuesday afternoon, stating that he recognized the independence of all of the two oblasts, well beyond the front line. “We have recognized the independence of these republics, that is, all their basic documents, including their constitution. And in the constitution are inscribed the borders of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions as they were when they were part of Ukraine”, underlined the Russian president in front of journalists. He said, however, that the exact borders should be drawn in talks between the two breakaway republics and Ukraine.

4Is this a first?

Besides recognizing pro-Russian separatists from Ukraine on Monday, Russia has already recognized two secessionist territories in Georgia. In 2008, the Kremlin recognized the independence of two pro-Russian separatist “republics” in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, after a lightning war against Tbilisi, a former Soviet republic which, like Ukraine, aims to join NATO.

Russia also annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, and since the early 1990s has supported the separatism of Transnistria, in Moldova.

5What consequences will these agreements have?

These agreements sign the end of a peace process under Franco-German mediation with the Minsk agreements of 2015 between Russia and Ukraine. Although regularly violated, this text had made it possible to limit clashes until then. But since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, recurring fighting has claimed nearly 14,000 lives.

On Monday evening, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described “Russia’s latest acts of violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state”assuring that Kiev would not give in “a parcel” of the country and was not afraid “nothing and no one”.

The United States, the European Union, NATO and London have unanimously denounced a “flagrant violation of international law”. During the night of Monday to Tuesday, the UN Security Council met urgently to try to avoid a war. At the start of the meeting, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, the American Rosemary DiCarlo declared: “The next few hours and days will be critical. The risk of major conflict is real and must be avoided at all costs.”

The strongest retaliatory measure yet was announced by Berlin, which froze the Nord Stream II gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany and promised that European sanctions “massive and robust” would follow. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced sanctions targeting three Kremlin-affiliated oligarchs and five Russian banks. Minimum measures for London, the financial stronghold of the great Russian fortunes.

The European Union is also working on economic sanctions. The White House, which has banned all transactions by Americans with separatist regions, must also take action. Joe Biden is due to speak on this Tuesday evening. These measures remain for the moment modest compared to those promised in the event of a major invasion. Westerners seem to be waiting to see how the situation develops.

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