Ukraine Map—Putin's Possible Next Moves in Breakaway Regions Explained

After Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement Moscow would recognize the self-proclaimed "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk (DPR and LPR), questions swirled over just how much territory in eastern Ukraine this applied to.

Russian parliament, or Duma, voted on Tuesday to recognize the breakaway republics in the Donbass region, where troops have been fighting Kyiv-led forces since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

But how much territory in the breakaway republics Russia will recognize as independent is a key factor in whether war will break out as the Luhansk and Donetsk regions are about one-third controlled by the separatists.

russia troops map
Map shows Russian troops (red) amassed near Ukraine earlier in February. Newsweek/Roshan Consulting

Ahead of the Duma vote came conflicting messages from other Russian political figures. Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Russia's interior minister, said Moscow could recognize the separatists' "historical borders" dating from 2014. He said this would include the entire Donbass region before their "occupation by Ukraine" according to news agency Tass.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Moscow would recognize the breakaway republics "within the borders in which they proclaimed themselves." Pressed further by reporters, Peskov did not specify other details."

Putin's decrees and treaties, which recognize the breakaway republics and allow Moscow to send troops to the DPR and LPR, do not define the separatists' borders.

"Neither (Russian foreign minister Sergei) Lavrov nor Peskov know what Putin's plan is," said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of analysis firm R.Politik.

"Putin is not interested in only recognizing little territories, but he is just trying to gain time to wait for a pretext for the Russian army to fight," she told Newsweek.

Ukraine Maps shows breakaway regions
This map shows the occupied areas (striped) with Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine.
Map of Ukraine's territorial disputes
The map provided by Getty shows the areas of dispute in Ukraine. Moscow has recognized the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk people's republics. Getty

"We see that Russia is massing military forces around Ukraine, and now they have entered Ukraine, we can expect that they are going to go much beyond the current borders of the breakaway republics," she added.

Mark Webber, professor of international politics at University of Birmingham, U.K., said that the next possible step is that the breakaway republics appeal to the Kremlin for unification with Russia.

"The Duma passes this and Putin signs off on it. Another chunk of territory is then lost to Ukraine," he told Newsweek, "of course, the situation here is much worse of that process encompasses all of Donetsk and Luhansk."

"Then Russia would have a pretext to grab these lands from Ukraine by force," he added.

British map showing "possible axis of invasion"
Britain's Military of Defence released this map on Thursday that it said showed "Putin's possible axis of invasion." U.K. Government

Meanwhile, the head of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, suggested the issue of borders will be resolved later. "I would not get too far ahead and would proceed in stages," he told the Russia 24 TV news channel.

"Now we have something to initiate cooperation within the framework of recognition with the Russian Federation, and then the situation will be unfolding as tomorrow and the day after tomorrow will dictate," he added.

Exactly what that will be, few other than Putin know.

Ukrainian Military Force serviceman
A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman in the Donetsk region town of Avdiivka, on the eastern Ukraine front-line with Russia-backed separatists on February 21, 2022. Russia's recognition of two breakaway regions in Ukraine has raised the specter of war. Aleksey Filippov/Getty

Update 2/23/22, 4:26 p.m. ET: A video showing mapping the situation in Donetsk And Luhansk has been added to this article.