Putin’s speech was a worrying escalation and the threats he made in it must be taken seriously, British foreign office minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News.
“Clearly it’s something that we should take very seriously because, you know, we’re not in control – I’m not sure he’s in control either, really. This is obviously an escalation,” she said.
Russia’s rouble fell and global oil prices surged after Putin’s comments. The war has already caused a spike in fuel and food prices around the world.
Putin restated his aim was to “liberate” east Ukraine’s Donbas industrial heartland region and that most people in the region did not want to return to what he called the “yoke” of Ukraine.
Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbas region Moscow partially occupied in 2014, to be independent states. Ukraine and the West consider all parts of Ukraine held by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.
Russia now holds about 60 per cent of Donetsk and had captured nearly all of Luhansk by July after slow advances during months of intense fighting.
Those gains are now under threat after Russian forces were driven from neighbouring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of their main supply lines for much of the Donetsk and Luhansk front lines.
Ahead of Putin’s speech, in an apparently coordinated move on Tuesday, Moscow-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions announced plans to hold referendums on joining Russia in coming days.