MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday delivered an emotional and aggrieved address laying claim to all of Ukraine as a country “created by Russia,” recognizing the independence of two Russian-backed territories in eastern Ukraine and threatening the government of Ukraine that the bloodshed could continue.
The White House responded by saying that President Biden would begin imposing limited economic sanctions on the two separatist regions, stopping short of imposing any penalties directly on Russia for now but vowing that more would come. Leaders of the European Union also condemned Putin’s move and said they would impose sanctions on those involved.
Immediately after the speech, state television showed Mr. Putin at the Kremlin signing decrees recognizing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, which were created after Russia fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Putin also signed “friendship and mutual assistance” treaties, raising the possibility that Russia could move some of the forces it has built up around Ukraine’s borders into those territories.
Mr. Putin’s speech laid out such a broad case against Ukraine — describing its pro-Western government as a dire threat to Russia and to Russians — that he appeared to be laying the groundwork to take action beyond simply recognizing two small breakaway republics.
“As for those who captured and are holding on to power in Kyiv: We demand that they immediately cease military action,” Mr. Putin said at the end of his nearly hourlong speech, referring to the Ukrainian capital. “If not, the complete responsibility for the possibility of a continuation of bloodshed will be fully and wholly on the conscience of the regime ruling the territory of Ukraine.”
It was a thinly veiled threat against the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky, which denies responsibility for the escalating shelling on the front line between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in recent days. Russian state television has broadcast extensive reports claiming that Ukraine is preparing an offensive against the separatist territories — claims that Kyiv denies.
By seeking to redraw the post-Cold War boundaries of Europe and force Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit, Mr. Putin is attempting nothing less than to upend the security structure that has helped maintain an uneasy peace on the continent for the past three decades.
Mr. Putin’s speech began with an extensive recitation of his historical grievances, starting with claims that Ukraine owes its statehood to the Soviet Union.
“Modern-day Ukraine was in full and in whole created by Russia, Bolshevik, Communist Russia to be precise,” he said.
Not only was Ukraine rejecting its shared past with Russia, he said, but it was enabling American ambitions of weakening Russia by aspiring to membership in the NATO alliance.
“Why was it necessary to make an enemy out of us?” Mr. Putin said, repeating his long-held grievances about NATO’s eastward expansion. “They didn’t want such a large, independent country as Russia. In this lies the answer to all questions.”
Beyond his intensive history lesson — which would be disputed by many Ukrainians, who see themselves as a separate country with their own identity — the Russian president said little about his next steps. For instance, And he did not address the fact that the separatist “people’s republics” claim about three times as much territory as they currently control.
Some analysts have speculated that Mr. Putin could use Russian troops to capture more Ukrainian territory on behalf of those republics. But his veiled threat against Kyiv appeared to signal that he was prepared to threaten Mr. Zelensky’s government directly — a scenario that American officials have said is a possibility given the size of Mr. Putin’s troop buildup to Ukraine’s north, east and south.