Putin plans to recognize separatist regions in eastern Ukraine


MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin summoned senior officials on Monday to consider recognizing the independence of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that would increase tensions with the West amid fears that the Kremlin

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin summoned senior officials on Monday to consider recognizing the independence of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that would increase tensions with the West amid fears that the Kremlin is launching an imminent invasion of Ukraine.

The public, pre-recorded meeting of the Presidential Security Council took place amid a spike in skirmishes in eastern Ukraine that Western powers believe Russia could use as a pretext for an attack on democracy in Ukraine. Western appearance that defied Moscow’s attempts to roll it back. in its orbit.

With around 150,000 Russian troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, the United States warned that Moscow had already decided to invade. Still, the US and Russian presidents have tentatively agreed to a possible meeting in a last-ditch effort to avert war.

If Russia invades, the meeting will be cut short, but the prospect of a face-to-face summit has rekindled hopes that diplomacy could prevent a devastating conflict, which would cause massive casualties and enormous economic damage across the country. Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russia. energy.

Even as diplomatic efforts progressed, potential trouble spots multiplied. Sustained shelling continued on Monday in the long-running conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists. Unusually, Russia said it had repelled an “incursion” from Ukraine, which Ukrainian officials denied. And Russia has moved to extend military exercises in Belarus, which could provide staging ground for an attack on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

Putin’s decision to consider recognizing the breakaway regions only threatened to add fuel to the fire.

Leaders of the regions earlier issued televised statements imploring Putin to recognize them as independent states and sign friendship treaties providing for military aid to protect them from what they described as a Ukrainian military offensive in Classes. The lower house of the Russian parliament launched the same plea last week.

The Ukrainian authorities deny having launched an offensive and accuse Russia of provocation.

The Kremlin initially signaled its reluctance to recognize the regions as independent, arguing that doing so would effectively break a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine that marked a major diplomatic coup for Moscow, forcing Ukrainian authorities to offer broad autonomy to the rebel regions.

But at Monday’s security meeting, Putin and other officials argued that Ukrainian officials had shown no appetite for implementing the deal.

With the prospect of war looming, French President Emmanuel Macron rushed to broker a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Putin, who denies plans to attack Ukraine.

Russia says it simply wants Western guarantees that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join. He also called on the alliance to halt arms deployments in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

Macron’s office said the two leaders had “agreed in principle to such a summit”, which would be followed by a broader meeting that would include other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability. in Europe”.

The language of Moscow and Washington was more cautious, but neither side denied that a meeting was under discussion.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the administration was always ready to talk to avoid a war, but it was also ready to respond to any attack.

“So when President Macron asked President Biden yesterday if he was ready in principle to meet with President Putin, if Russia didn’t invade, of course President Biden said yes,” he said. said Monday on NBC’s “Today” show. to see on the ground right now in terms of the disposition of Russian forces is that they are actually preparing for a major attack on Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that Putin and Biden could meet if they deemed it “feasible,” but stressed that “it is premature to talk about specific plans for a summit.”

Macron’s office said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were set to lay the groundwork for a possible summit when they met on Thursday.

Among the encouraging signs, there were also worrying ones. From Thursday, shelling increased along the tense line of contact between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels in Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Ukraine and separatist rebels have traded blame for massive ceasefire violations with hundreds of explosions being recorded daily. The world is watching the fighting warily for any signs that could ignite a larger conflict.

On Friday, separatist officials announced the evacuation of civilians and military mobilization in the face of what they described as an imminent Ukrainian offensive on rebel areas. Ukrainian officials have strongly denied any plans to launch such an attack.

While Russian-backed separatists accused Ukrainian forces of firing on residential areas, Associated Press reporters covering several towns and villages in Ukrainian-controlled territory along the line of contact did not witness any no noticeable escalation on the Ukrainian side and have documented signs of increased shelling by separatists who have destroyed homes and destroyed roads.

Some residents of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk described sporadic shelling by Ukrainian forces, but said it was not on the same scale as at the start of the conflict.

Separatist authorities said Monday that at least four civilians have been killed by Ukrainian shelling in the past 24 hours and several others have been injured. The Ukrainian military said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the weekend and another serviceman was injured on Monday.

Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk said the separatists were “cynically firing from residential areas using civilians as shields”. He insisted that Ukrainian forces were not fighting back.

In the village of Novognativka on the Ukrainian government-controlled side, Ekaterina Evseeva, 60, said the shelling was worse than during the height of fighting at the start of the conflict.

“We are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And there’s nowhere to run,” she said, her voice shaking.

In another ominous sign, the Russian military said it killed five suspected “saboteurs” who crossed from Ukraine to Russia’s Rostov region and also destroyed two armored vehicles. Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko called the claim “disinformation”.

Amid heightened fears of invasion, the US administration sent a letter to the UN human rights chief saying Moscow had compiled a list of Ukrainians to be killed or sent to detention camps after the ‘invasion. The letter, first reported by The New York Times, was obtained by the AP.

Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that claim was a lie and that no such list exists.

Throughout the crisis, Ukrainian leaders have sought to project calm, repeatedly downplaying the threat of invasion.

European Union diplomacy chief Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell welcomed the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit, but said the 27-nation bloc had finalized its set of sanctions to be used if Putin was ordering an invasion.

The European Union has also agreed to send military officers to Ukraine in an advisory role, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday.


Karmanau reported from Kiev, Ukraine, and Cook from Brussels. Lori Hinnant in Kyiv; Angela Charlton in Paris; Zeke Miller and Aamer Madhani in Munich, Germany; Geir Moulson in Berlin; and Ellen Knickmeyer, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Vladimir Isachenkov, Yuras Karmanau and Lorne Cook, The Associated Press


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