Russian-Backed Rebel Leaders Announce Military Mobilization in Eastern Ukraine

Russian-backed rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have announced plans for military mobilization as tensions remain high along the country's borders with Russia and the U.S. warns of an impending invasion.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said he had issued a decree for "general mobilization" on Saturday, while another separatist leader, Leonid Pasechnik, signed a similar decree for the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, according to Reuters.

President Joe Biden said on Friday that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had made the decision to invade Ukraine. The U.S. has repeatedly warned that Russian troops amassed along the countries' borders could launch an imminent attack.

In a video statement, Pushilin said: "I urge my fellow citizens who are in the reserves to come to military conscription offices. Today I signed a decree on general mobilization."

"Together, we will achieve for all of us the victory we desire and need. We will protect Donbas and all Russian people," he said.

Pushilin claimed that separatist forces had prevented attacks that were planned by Ukraine. The government in Kyiv has denied that it has any intention of trying to retake the separatist-controlled territory.

The separatist administrations, backed by Russia, declared their independence eight years ago but have never received international recognition. Separatist authorities announced on Friday that they planned to evacuate around 700,000 people and claimed that Ukraine was planning an attack. The Ukrainian government has denied this.

The Ukrainian government has claimed that separatists committed 12 ceasefire violations on Saturday morning after committing 66 violations in the previous 24 hours.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) reported on Saturday that it had observed a "dramatic increase in kinetic activity along the contact line in eastern Ukraine."

The OSCE reported 222 ceasefire violations in Donetsk on Thursday, including 135 explosions, and 648 violations in Luhansk, with 519 explosions.

Shelling across the dividing line between separatists and Ukrainian government forces increased this week with both sides accusing the other of ceasefire violations.

When reached for comment by Newsweek on Saturday, the Department of the Defense pointed to remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Friday.

"To be clear, as I said yesterday in Brussels, there is still time and space for diplomacy. United steps—the United States, in lockstep with our allies and partners, including Poland, has offered Mr. Putin a path away from crisis and towards greater security. Whatever path he chooses, the United States and our allies and our partners will be ready," Austin said.

President Biden said on Friday that claims that the Ukrainian government was seeking to escalate the conflict in separatist-held areas "defies basic logic" and cited the fact that around 150,000 Russian troops are now amassed on Ukraine's borders.

Biden also said he believed Putin had made the decision to invade Ukraine.

"As of this moment, I'm convinced he's made the decision. We have reason to believe that," the president said.

While Biden said that diplomacy was still possible, he warned of Western sanctions if an invasion took place.

"We're ready to impose severe sanctions on Russia if it further invades Ukraine. But I say again, Russia can still choose diplomacy. It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table," the president said.

Update 02/19/22 10:40 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include a response from the Department of Defense.

A Ukrainian Serviceman Waits in Position
A serviceman of Ukrainian Military Forces waits on his position on the front line with Russia backed separatists not far Novolugansk, Donetsk region on February 16, 2022. Rebel leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk have issued military mobilization orders. ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images