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Why are Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s Donbas region a flash point for Putin?

Russia on Tuesday launched what appeared to be a much-anticipated ground offensive in eastern Ukraine. It’s a campaign that will seek “the complete liberation of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, referring to the two breakaway enclaves that make up Ukraine’s wider Donbas region.

The energy-rich Donbas, on Russia’s western border, has long been a flash point for conflict between the two countries — with Moscow backing separatists there for years. Days before invading Ukraine in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, marking an end to already fragile peace talks just days before the start of the war.

For Moscow, a victory in Donbas would be a welcome diversion from its failed offensive in Ukraine’s north. It would also give Russia a critical piece of Ukrainian territory, depriving Kyiv of its industrial heartland.

Here’s what is happening in Ukraine’s Donbas region and why it matters.

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