Russian lawmakers authorize Putin to use military force outside the country

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday authorized President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside the country — a move that could presage a broader attack on Ukraine.

European leaders say Russia has already moved troops into separatist-held areas of Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen in Moscow on Monday. On Tuesday, he received authorization from Russian lawmakers to use force outside the country. (Kremlin/Reuters)

Russian lawmakers on Tuesday authorized President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside the country — a move that could presage a broader attack on Ukraine.

Members of Russia's upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country — effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions, where an eight-year conflict has killed nearly 14,000 people.

Shortly after, Putin laid out three conditions to end the crisis that has threatened to plunge Europe back into war, raising the spectre of massive casualties, energy shortages across the continent and economic chaos around the globe.

Putin said the crisis could be resolved if Kyiv recognizes Russia's sovereignty over Crimea — the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — renounces its bid to join NATO and partially demilitarizes.

The West has decried the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law and has previously flatly rejected permanently barring Ukraine from joining NATO.

WATCH | Putin stokes tensions with Ukraine, orders peacekeepers into separatist regions: 

Putin stokes tensions with Ukraine, orders peacekeepers into separatist regions

6 months ago
Duration 5:47
Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed tensions with Ukraine to a new level by recognizing two separatist regions and sending "peacekeepers" in. Residents on both sides of the border are preparing for the conflict to escalate.

Asked whether he has sent any Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, Putin responded: "I haven't said that the troops will go there right now."

He went on to say that "it's impossible to forecast a specific pattern of action — it will depend on a concrete situation as it takes shape on the ground."

Ukraine calls up reservists

Following Putin's move, Ukraine's president called up some of the country's military reservists, but said there is no need for a full military mobilization.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address to his nation Tuesday night that he had signed a decree to that effect.

"Today there is no need for a full mobilization. We need to quickly add additional staff to the Ukrainian army and other military formations," Zelensky said.

He said the decree only applies to those assigned to the so-called operational reserve, which is typically activated during ongoing hostilities, and covers "a special period of time," without clarifying what that means.

"Ukrainians are a peaceful nation, we want silence, but if we keep silent today, we will disappear tomorrow," Zelensky said.

There are about 250,000 troops in Ukraine's armed forces.

White House refers to 'invasion'

With tensions rising and a broader conflict looking ever more likely, the White House began referring to the Russian deployments in the region known as the Donbas as an "invasion" after initially hesitating to use the term — a red line that U.S. President Joe Biden has said would result in the U.S. levying severe sanctions against Moscow. 

"We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia's latest invasion into Ukraine," Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, said on CNN. "An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway."

Activists holding placards depicting Putin and with the words, 'Empire must die,' rally outside the Russian Embassy in Kyiv on Tuesday. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Several European leaders said Russian troops rolled into rebel-held areas in Eastern Ukraine after Putin formally recognized their independence on Monday. But it was unclear how large the deployment was, and Ukraine and its Western allies have long said Russian troops were fighting in the region, allegations that Moscow always denied.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that he has cancelled plans to meet his Russian counterpart in Geneva later this week as Russia presses ahead with recognition of separatist regions of Ukraine.

WATCH | Russia moving heavy artillery through its western borders: 

Russia, Ukraine prepare for possible war

6 months ago
Duration 4:35
Russia has been moving heavy artillery through its western borders and Ukraine called up reservists as both sides prepare for a possible invasion at any minute.

The administration resisted initially calling the deployment of troops an invasion because the White House wanted to see what Russia was actually going to do. After assessing Russian troop movements, it became clear it was a new invasion, the official said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also alluded to the Russian action as being an invasion in a Twitter post commenting on Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz's decision to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in response to Russia's actions.

The U.S. president "made clear that if Russia invaded Ukraine, we would act with Germany to ensure Nord Stream 2 does not move forward," Psaki said.

For weeks, Western powers have been bracing for an invasion as Russia massed an estimated 150,000 troops on three sides of neighbouring Ukraine. They warned an attack would cause massive casualties, energy shortages in Europe and economic chaos around the globe — and promised swift and severe sanctions if it materialized.

Britain announced its sanctions on Tuesday, targeting five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals. The U.S. followed suit, also targeting banks and Russia's sovereign debt. 

While U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Russian tanks have already rolled into Eastern Ukraine, he warned a full-scale offensive would bring "further powerful sanctions."

WATCH | Britain slaps new sanctions on Russian banks, individuals

Britain slaps new sanctions on Russian banks, individuals

6 months ago
Duration 1:23
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed new sanctions against Russian banks and individuals after the Russian president formally recognized two breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine. 'Putin's venture in Ukraine must fail,' Johnson said.

Western leaders have long warned Moscow would look for cover to invade — and just such a pretext appeared to come Monday, when Putin recognized as independent two separatist regions in Eastern Ukraine, where government troops have fought Russia-backed rebels in a conflict that has killed over 14,000 people.

The Kremlin then raised the stakes further Tuesday, by saying that recognition extends even to the large parts now held by Ukrainian forces.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia has recognized the rebel regions' independence "in borders that existed when they proclaimed" their independence in 2014 — broad territories that extend far beyond the areas now under the rebel control and that include the major Black Sea port of Mariupol.

Putin's move to recognize the territories' independence opened the door for him to formalize his hold on them and send forces in, though Ukraine and its Western allies have charged Russian troops have been fighting there for years. Moscow denies those allegations.

Condemnation from around the world was quick. Zelensky, Ukraine's president, said he would consider breaking diplomatic ties with Russia, and Kyiv recalled its ambassador in Moscow.

But confusion over what exactly was happening in Eastern Ukraine threatened to hobble a Western response. While the U.S. clearly called it an invasion, some other allies hedged.

A Ukrainian serviceman walks along a trench at a position on the front line with Russia-backed separatists near the settlement of Troitske in the Luhansk region on Tuesday. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

EU official says Russian troops are in Donbas

"Russian troops have entered in Donbas," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Paris, referring to the name for the area where the two separatist regions are located. "We consider Donbas part of Ukraine."

But in a distinction that could complicate a European and Western response, he also said: "I wouldn't say that [it is] a fully fledged invasion, but Russian troops are on Ukrainian soil."

Poland's Defence Ministry and British Health Secretary Sajid Javid also said Russian forces had entered Ukraine's east, with Javid telling Sky News that "the invasion of Ukraine has begun."

Not all in Europe saw it that way. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares noted "if Russia uses force against Ukraine, sanctions will be massive."

People demonstrate in support of Ukraine outside the Russian Embassy in Paris on Tuesday, a day after Russia formally recognized two Ukraine breakaway regions as independent. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

The Kremlin hasn't confirmed any troop deployments to the rebel east, saying it will depend on the security situation.

Vladislav Brig, a member of the separatist local council in Donetsk, told reporters that the Russian troops already had moved in, but more senior rebel leaders didn't confirm that.

Late Monday, convoys of armoured vehicles were seen rolling across the separatist-controlled territories. It wasn't immediately clear if they were Russian.