Putin Claims ‘Genocide’ Happening in Donbas Region of Ukraine

  • Putin on Tuesday baselessly claimed genocide is happening in the Donbas.
  • Russia has backed rebels in a war against Ukraine in the Donbas since 2014.
  • The West is concerned Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday claimed, without evidence, that “genocide” is occurring in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, where Kremlin-backed rebels have been fighting a war with Ukrainian forces since 2014.

“In our view of what is now happening in Donbas is genocide,” Putin said during a joint press conference in Moscow with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, per BBC News. Similarly, Putin in December said the conflict in the Donbas “looks like genocide.”

Russia in 2014 justified its military intervention in Ukraine by claiming ethnic Russians were being threatened, assertions the US fervently rejected. “What’s happening is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a country. President Barack Obama said of the situation in Ukraine at the time.

Putin’s comments on Tuesday came as Russia said that it was pulling back an unspecified number of its troops from Ukraine’s border — a claim met with extreme skepticism by Ukraine and the West.

Meanwhile, Russia’s states on Tuesday backed a resolution calling on Putin to formally recognize Donetsk and Luhansk — breakaway territories in the Donbas region on Russia’s border, whose fighters are supported by Moscow — as independent.

If Putin recognized these territories as independent, it could open the door for Russia to them. In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea.

In a tweet responding to the vote, the US embassy in Kyiv said it was “yet another odious attempt to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and a clear violation of the Minsk agreements, which commit signatories to reintegrate these regions.”

The Minsk agreements are ceasefire deals signed in 2014 and 2015 (negotiated in Minsk, Belarus) designed to end fighting in the Donbas, but the accords have never been fully implemented.

That said, Putin during Tuesday’s press conference said the Donbas issues should be resolved “in the framework of the Minsk agreements.”

The Minsk accords restore Ukrainian control over the separatist territories in the Donbas, while granting them special autonomy.

Kyiv and Moscow have fundamentally different interpretations of what the implementation of Minsk would look like. Critics of the agreements contend they would give Russia too much power over Ukrainian politics. And despite clear evidence that Russia is involved in the Donbas and has troops there, Moscow has claimed it’s not party to the conflict and should not be bound to the terms of Minsk.

Russia has gathered tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s border since late 2021. The Kremlin has claimed it does not plan to invade, but the US has warned that a Russian military incursion could occur at any moment. As it threatens Ukraine, Moscow has made demands for binding security guarantees from the West. Among other demands, Russia insists that Ukraine be barred from ever joining NATO. But NATO and the US have been clear that this demand is a non-starter.

Putin on diplomatic signaled he was open to continuing talks, as Western officials continued questioning whether the Kremlin was genuinely interested in diplomacy. “There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue. This gives grounds for optimism,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

“But so far we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side,” Stoltenberg added.

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