“I consider it necessary to take a long-overdue decision: To immediately recognize the independence and sovereignty of Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic,” Putin said, referring to two pro-Russian parts of Ukraine in the Donbas region that since 2014 have been engaged in a war with the Kyiv government that has claimed an estimated 14,000 lives already.

Russian President Vladimir Putin laid out his version of Ukraine’s history, saying essentially that Ukraine was always part of Russia. While that serves his purpose, it is also a fiction. Ukraine has its own thousand-year history.

What is now Ukraine was a contested region of shifting borders for centuries that did not come completely under Moscow’s rule until late in the 18th century during the reign of Catherine the Great, and even then the Russian Empire was never able to swallow it easily or completely, writes John Daniszewski of the Associated Press.

In his present-day effort to bring an independent, Western-looking Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit, Putin is following a well-trod path of many of Russia’s rulers before him — from Peter the Great to Josef Stalin.

For the West, the question is whether it can limit Putin’s revanchist ambitions through diplomacy, sanctions and Ukrainian military resistance. The recognition of the two breakaway regions by Putin, and the sending in of Russian troops already threatening the country, could easily be the trigger for a wider war for all of Ukraine.

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