Putin mulls recognizing breakaway Ukrainian regions as independent states

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Putin mulls recognizing breakaway Ukrainian regions as independent states

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he was weighing a request by the leaders of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine to recognize them as independent states — a move that would allow Russia to roll troops into the disputed areas.

Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told state-run RIA Novosti that Putin would deliver a video address to the Russian people Monday night, hours after a televised meeting of Moscow’s Security Council took place while shelling continued in the war-torn Donbas region.

The US and its allies believe ​the Kremlin could use the conflict as a pretext to launch an invasion.

​Images of the gathering showed Putin sitting alone at a desk while members of the council gathered on the opposite side of the ornately decorated room.

Putin alleged that Moscow has tried to resolve disputes ​​between the people living in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas and the Kiev government ​​using peaceful means​ ​since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014.​

Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is weighing a request by leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Ukraine to recognize the areas as independent states.
Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council in Moscow.
Making Donetsk and Luhansk independent states would allow Russia to roll troops into the disputed areas.
Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

The Russian leader painted Ukraine as the aggressor, accusing Kiev of launching a number of military offenses against the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and citing the most recent shelling reports — which Putin alleged violated the terms of a 2015 cease-fire brokered in Minsk, Belarus, by France and Germany.

“It is clear to everyone that (Ukraine) is not going to do anything on this Minsk package of measures … Russia has made and is still making efforts to peacefully resolve all the difficult and tragic elements in the development of events, but today we are where we are,” Putin said.

 Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security Service, described a dire situation in Donbas, saying that 70,000 people had been moved to Russia after rebel leaders announced evacuation orders last week.​

A boy plays with a weapon as an instructor shows a Kalashnikov assault rifle while training members of a Ukrainian far-right group train.
Putin painted Ukraine as the aggressor.
Efrem Lukatsky/AP
Servicemen of the Ukrainian Military Forces walk on the front line.
Putin accused Ukraine of launching a number of military offenses against the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images
A local resident stands at the scene of an explosion next to his house after alleged shelling by separatists forces.
A man stands at the scene of an explosion next to his house after alleged shelling by separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP
Tetyana Tomenko, a local resident, cries standing in front of her damaged house after alleged shelling by separatists forces.
A woman stands in front of her damaged house after alleged shelling by separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
Evgeniy Maloletka/AP

Recognizing the rebel-held territory as independent would allow Russia to openly deploy troops there. 

Putin also addressed the security guarantees that he demanded of the US and NATO in December, arguing that if Ukraine is allowed to join the Atlantic alliance, “then the threats to our country will increase many times.”​

The leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic also released ​televised messages appealing to Putin. 

“With the goal of preventing mass deaths among the republic’s civilian population, some 300,000 of whom are Russian citizens, I’m asking you to recognize the sovereignty and independence of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” Leonid Pasechnik said, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

At the same time, the Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine military continued to trade blame for the shelling in Donbas. ​​​Officials in the rebel-held areas said four civilians had been killed in the past 24 hours by Ukrainian forces firing on residential areas.

People from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions get on a train.
People from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions get on a train to be taken to temporary residences in Russia.
AP
Displaced civilians from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the territory controlled by pro-Russia separatist governments in eastern Ukraine, rest in a sport hall in Taganrog, Russia.
Displaced civilians from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions rest in a sport hall in Taganrog, Russia.
AP
Evacuees from the separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine queue to receive assistance payments.
Evacuees from the separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine line up to receive assistance payments.
Sergey Pivovarov/REUTERS

Ukraine’s military said two soldiers were killed over the weekend, with spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk telling the Associated Press that the separatists were “cynically firing from residential areas using civilians as shields” and emphasizing that Ukraine forces were​ not returning fire.

T​he Russian military claimed it had killed five suspected “saboteurs” who ​crossed into the Rostov region of Russia, a statement that Ukraine called “disinformation.” ​​

With Post wires​

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