Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to recognize Ukraine’s two rebel regions as independent, the Kremlin said on Monday, a move that could spark a potentially devastating conflict with Kiev’s western-backed government.
In a statement after Putin spoke to French and German leaders, the Kremlin said Putin had informed him about requests from authorities in different regions and from Russian lawmakers for Moscow to recognize him.
“In the near future, the president plans to sign the order,” the statement said, adding that France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz “expressed disappointment” at the decision in a phone call.
Hours before Putin presided over a lengthy and carefully stage-managed meeting of his powerful Security Council, senior officials say the time has come for Russia to recognize the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic as independent .
“I have heard your opinion. A decision will be taken today,” he said after the meeting, which was broadcast on state television for over 90 minutes.
State media announced a televised statement by Putin later on Monday.
The recognition would effectively put an end to an already shaky peace plan in the separatist conflict, which, since 2014, after Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and left more than 14,000 people dead.
Russia can now step in troops to protect the hundreds of thousands of residents in areas that have been given Russian passports, justifying intervention as a way of protecting its citizens.
Ukraine would then either have to accept the loss of a large part of the territory, or face armed conflict with its much more powerful neighbour.
Ukrainian leader President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had convened his National Security and Defense Council after Putin spoke, and also held talks with Macron and Scholz.
Moscow’s sudden and decisive move has overshadowed weeks of last-ditch diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions on fears Russia is planning an all-out offensive on its pro-Western neighbour.
European leaders have urged Putin to hold a summit with his US counterpart Joe Biden, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin at a Security Council meeting that he would meet his US counterpart in Geneva on Thursday.
– A ‘huge threat’ to Russia – but Putin made clear there is no room for further talks on the separatists, telling the Security Council “any prospect” for the 2015 Minsk peace deal aimed at resolving the Ukraine conflict No” was.
He clarified that the stakes were bigger than former Soviet Ukraine, whose efforts to join NATO and the European Union deeply angered Moscow.
“Using Ukraine as an instrument of confrontation with our country poses a serious, very great threat to us,” Putin said.
The dramatic meeting – with Putin sitting alone at a desk as his government, military and security chiefs addressed him from a stage – came after weeks of tension between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.
Western leaders are warning that Russia is planning to invade its pro-Western neighbor after mobilizing more than 150,000 troops on its borders, a claim Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Ukraine on Monday urged an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to deal with the threat, citing security assurances received in return for the abandonment of its nuclear arsenal in 1994.
Announcing the request on Twitter, Foreign Minister Dimitro Kuleba cited Article Six of the Budapest Memorandum, the landmark 1994 deal also signed by Russia, the United States and Britain.
Tensions have escalated in recent days following heavy shelling along Ukraine’s eastern border with separatists and a series of alleged incidents along the border with Russia.
In one of the most potentially dangerous, Moscow claimed – to the furious Kiev denial – that its forces intercepted and killed five Ukrainian saboteurs infiltrating Russian territory, and opened fire on a border post on Ukraine. accused of.
– ‘Crush them, harm them’ – Kiev, concerned that Russia may be building a narrative to justify an invasion, immediately denied all allegations, which are being widely circulated on Russian state media and Kuleba took to Twitter.
“No, Ukraine did not: attack Donetsk or Lugansk, sabotage or send APCs (armored personnel carriers) to the Russian border, cross Russian territory, shell Russian border, conduct acts of sabotage,” he said.
“Even Ukraine does not plan any such action. Russia, now shut down your counterfeit-producing factory,” he wrote.
Also on Monday, local officials said shelling had hit the government-held village of Novolugansk, 35 kilometers (25 miles) north of Donetsk, an eastern rebel stronghold, in which one civilian was killed.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News that the Russian invasion of its neighbor would be an “extremely violent” operation followed by brutal capture.
“There will be a war waged by Russia to suppress, crush, harm the Ukrainian people,” the White House official said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksey Reznikov said there were no signs of Russian forces withdrawing from the border and Moscow-backed rebels continued to shell Ukrainian posts.
In recent weeks, according to US intelligence, Moscow has amassed an assault force of troops, tanks, missile batteries and warships around Ukraine’s borders in Belarus, Russia, Crimea and the Black Sea.
Biden has said US intelligence believes Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and that commanders are preparing units to attack within days.
Western powers have threatened a severe sanctions package if Russia invades, and shortly before Putin’s announcement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said sanctions if Russia recognized the separatists would also be “on the table”. But”.
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