Donbas, Donetsk, Luhansk: Ukraine’s regions on the brink

Donbas, Donetsk, Luhansk: Ukraine’s regions on the brink

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing the two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, known as the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR)” and the “Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR),” which Western nations fear are possible ground zeros for a possible invasion.

Part of the wider Donbas vicinity, Donetsk and Luhansk are “oblasts,” administrative and political sub-divisions. Not all of the territory within the oblasts are held and occupied by pro-Russian separatists, as Ukraine nevertheless retains some control across the contested Donbas vicinity.

Donbas has been the site of clashes between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces that have killed more than 14,000 people since 2014.

Putin also signed decrees ordering troops into the newly recognized regions under the assumption of “peacekeeping” on Monday. The next day, the White House said the move was the beginning of an “invasion” and prompted groups of political backlash, sanctions and international condemnation.

Russian lawmakers and members of the Federation Council also gave Putin permission to use military force outside of the country in a unanimous vote Tuesday, formalizing a military deployment.


Putin’s move effectively ended the so-called “Minsk Agreement” peace deal brokered by France and Germany in 2015, which was supposed to end the conflict between Kyiv and the Russian-backed separatists in Donbas.

Ukraine was to give the vicinity special position and autonomy, and in return would regain control of its border with Russia along with several ceasefire measures between the two.

The deal has been a flashpoint between Russia and Ukraine, with Putin alleging Ukraine never intended to to pay attention to the agreement, and Ukraine alleging that the pact gave Russia too much sway and undermined their sovereignty.

At a news conference in Moscow Tuesday, Putin said the Minsk Agreement with Ukraine no longer existed and that there was nothing left for Russia to fulfill, blaming Kyiv for effectively killing it.

Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s University Lyubov Zhyznomirska told that the recent developments are not “unexpected because of Putin’s search for a pretext for invasion.”

But Zhyznomirska said she was a bit surprised by the decline of the Minsk agreement.

“I thought that the Minsk agreement would have been used as an instrument to manipulate the situation in Ukraine and control, to a certain extent, the situation in Ukraine and that Putin would not give up on that tool that he had, but it was not of value to him. With the recognition of the republics, it’s a way to move the army into the territory of Ukraine by the mechanism of recognition of these republics,” Zhyznomirska said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Aurel Braun, professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto and associate with the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, told in a telephone interview that Putin’s actions are par for the course.

“He is a really ruthless leader, but he’s not reckless,” Braun said of Putin on Tuesday. “By that, I average that you look for safe, easy targets and he has concluded this is a comparatively soft target.”

Braun also said Putin’s actions in the vicinity are evidence that western nations’ past sanctions on Russia, and the threat of more down the line, are not enough.

“Putin is looking at the West, and it seems a helpless giant whose deterrence has collapsed. And that’s why we must go back to the big picture,” he said. “This should never have happened, it would not have happened if there was deterrence. The sanctions that were instituted against Russia were not working, Putin was able to get around them.”

“History will record that the most powerful, the longest-lasting alliance in human history, NATO, was bullied and beaten into ineffectiveness by a remnant of a superpower and the leader of an ultra-nationalistic kleptocracy that is in search of an ideology,” he continued.


After Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, Donbas has been divided with territories under different control: Ukraine-controlled parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and the Russian-backed separatist portions of Donetsk and Luhansk which Putin formally recognized as the DNR and LNR Monday.

Millions of people live in the contested areas, many of whom are Russian-speaking or hail from Russia, a fact that has figured prominently in Putin’s pretext to move against Ukraine in an effort to “safeguard and defend” those who proportion language and cultural ties to Russia.

“So listening to Putin and these views that he has expressed as far back as former president of the United States George Bush, these are territories for him. This is not an independent state he is looking at,” Zhyznomirska said. “It has been formulated in Russian foreign policy in mid-2000s, the protection of Russian speaking populations, the right to protect these minorities when they are concentrated in foreign countries.”

In a July 2021 missive, Putin wrote a wide-ranging essay espousing his views on the historical ties between Ukraine and Russia, describing them as “one people” and declaring that he is “confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.”

Much of the essay echoed in Putin’s speech Monday, where he asserted that “Ukraine has never had its own authentic statehood,” in an address which Braun said was “an Orwellian distortion of history.”

“The speech was about was the illegality of the existence of Ukraine in his eyes: that this was an illegitimate state… that it is an area controlled by the West that is an affront to Russia, that Russia is a victim,” Braun said. “When you think about it, is not just breathtakingly ahistorical, but is completely illogical.”

Stating that Putin has “no sense of irony,” Braun noted that Russia holds Kaliningrad, which was once German territory. “So are you going to give it back? Maybe it’s the Kuril Islands. Oh, well that’s Japanese territory. Are you going to give that back? Or parts of Russia that were Finland?” he said.

“So, you know, this is someone who gave not a history lesson, but an Orwellian distortion of history,” Braun continued. “It was this little man, sitting by himself in a covered room, yelling at the cameras, saying, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it.’” 

Edited by Producer Kieron Lang, graphic by CTV News’ Jasna Baric

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