Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron that he will recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin announced Monday.
"I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago: To immediately recognize the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic," Putin said later in an address to the Russian people, before signing a decree to make his intentions official.
The move will no doubt rankle Western nations and ratchet up fears of a potentially imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin said in a release that Putin informed Macron and Scholz that he intends to sign a decree recognizing the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. The announcement came after Putin convened a meeting of the presidential Security Council, during which officials argued for Putin to recognize the independence of those territories.
In a televised address on Monday, Putin portrayed Ukraine as a non-state created by communist Russia, rhetoric that further inflamed concerns that the Russian president is planning an imminent invasion of the neighboring country.
Putin decried former communist leader Vladimir Lenin as the “author and architect” of Ukraine, saying he “disadvantaged” Russia by doing so.
"Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us: It's an inseparable part of our shared history, our comrades and relatives,” Putin said, claiming that Ukraine has “never had a consistent tradition of being a true nation.”
Putin’s announcement that he would recognize the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, areas Ukraine says are controlled by Russian-backed leaders, is alarming because they are in disputed territory – land that crosses over from where Russia currently controls and into space controlled by Ukraine’s army.
Before Monday, neither region was recognized as an official state by either Ukraine or Russia.
For Putin, the claiming – or reclaiming, as he said – of the two border regions represents a return to a once-more powerful Russia.
"So you want decommunization? That suits us,” he said to Ukraine. “But let’s not stop halfway. We are prepared to show you what real decommunization looks like.”
Putin asserted that his recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk came only after Ukrainian authorities behaved aggressively against the regions, which Ukraine has denied.
The Russian leader also accused the U.S. and other Western nations of attempting to "blackmail" the country with the threat of sanctions.
"They always find an excuse to introduce more sanctions," Putin said of the U.S. and NATO. "The only goal they have is to contain the development of Russia."
"We will never concede our sovereignty, or national interest or values," he added.
The speech came amid a spike in skirmishes in those regions that Western powers believe Russia could use as a pretext for an attack on Ukraine.
Sustained shelling continued Monday in Ukraine’s east. Unusually, Russia said it had fended off an “incursion” from Ukraine — which Ukrainian officials denied. And Russia decided to prolong military drills in Belarus, which could offer a staging ground for an attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the separatists, but Moscow has denied that, saying that Russians who fought there were volunteers.
Earlier Monday, leaders of the regions released televised statements pleading with Putin to recognize them and sign treaties that would allow for military aid to protect them from what they described as an ongoing Ukrainian military offensive. Russia’s lower house of parliament made the same plea last week.
Ukrainian authorities deny launching an offensive and accuse Russia of provocation.
Macron and Scholz "expressed their disappointment with this development," per the Kremlin, but "indicated their readiness to continue contacts."
President Joe Biden is meeting with his national security team at the White House today and is being regularly briefed on developments regarding Russia and Ukraine, a White House official said Monday afternoon.
This is a developing story. Check back later for further updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.