The Guardian view on Ukraine: the shadow of war looms larger | Editorial

After months of growing tensions, and massing troops at Ukraine’s borders, there is no doubting the gravity of this moment. The tremors are felt across Europe, which the repercussions of Russian aggression could shape for decades to come – in its east, especially, where other former Soviet republics watch anxiously, but most of all, of course, in Ukraine itself, where this is not about geopolitical struggle but the threat of a massive human disaster. Its neighbours are preparing for millions of refugees in the worst case; some Ukrainians are already fleeing, abroad or to the country’s west, though others have vowed to fight.

Vladimir Putin’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine as independent states, and order to send in “peacekeepers”, is the culmination of events which began in 2014 when Russia fomented the separatist insurgency that created the two self-proclaimed republics. Since Russian personnel have long been believed to be involved, this could be seen as to some degree a formalisation of the status quo. But in recognising the separatists’ claims to parts of the Donbas region that they do not currently control, the Russian president has increased the prospects of his armed forces encroaching on other parts of Ukraine. On Tuesday he requested the Duma to authorise the use of troops abroad; his angry railing the previous day, and the size and location of the military buildup, already suggested actions on a much larger scale.

Besides making absurd claims of “genocide” by Ukraine, Mr Putin portrayed the country as a Russian invention with no historical right to exist and, chillingly, warned that if Kyiv did not stop the violence of which Moscow accuses it, “all responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodshed will be entirely on the conscience of the regime ruling on the territory of Ukraine”. The best way to solve the current crisis, he has argued, is for Kyiv to abandon its goal of joining Nato and declare its…

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