By Layla Guest in Moscow
Following a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, President Vladimir Putin has announced that he will decide on Monday whether to recognize the two self-declared breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in Ukraine’s war-torn Donbas region.
Speaking at the end of the session, during which government ministers and the head of the country’s security agencies claimed that the humanitarian situation across the border is worsening, Putin said that “I have heard your opinions. A decision will be made today,” before ending the meeting.
Among the members of the council calling for the Kremlin to back the recognition of the rebel-held territories was Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, who alleged that tactical nuclear weapons could be deployed by Ukrainian government forces and argued that Kyiv is preparing to resolve the standoff in the east of the country by force.
The country’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, also backed calls for affirming the sovereignty of Donetsk and Lugansk, arguing that the US and its partners in Europe are fueling the crisis.
“I see no other way,” he said. “As for offering the West two or three days to come to its senses, it is a matter of taste, of course, but it will certainly not change its position.”
The remarks come shortly after the leaders of Ukraine’s breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk republics called for Putin to recognize the separatist regions as independent territories, as forces loyal to the breakaway regions and Kyiv’s military accuse each other of heavy shelling across the contact line.
Last week, rebel leaders announced that they had begun evacuating civilians to Russia, amid what they claim is a sharp spike in hostilities, and have ordered the mobilization of all able-bodied men to be ready to fight in a potential conflict.
Ukraine rejects claims it is preparing to attack, with Aleksey Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, claiming that “there is an attempt to provoke our forces,” and that Kyiv’s troops “can only open fire if there will be a threat to the lives of our service members.”
Last week, the Russian parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a motion calling for Putin to affirm the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk. He later said events in the Donbas, home to a large ethnic Russian population, are reminiscent of “genocide.”
Donbas republics call on Putin to recognize their independence
Putin, however, insisted that “we have to do everything to resolve the problem of Donbas, but do it first and foremost based on the possibility of implementing the Minsk agreements,” referring to a major peace accord designed to put an end to the long-standing conflict in the region.
Fierce fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014 following the events of the Maidan, when violent street protests overthrew the elected government. The two regions then went on to announce they had broken away from Kiev, although neither Russia nor Ukraine nor any other UN country, recognize their bids for independence at present.
Kyiv’s top diplomat has previously warned against Moscow affirming its autonomy. “If a decision is made… Russia will de facto and de jure withdraw from the Minsk agreements with all the accompanying consequences,” Dmitry Kuleba said earlier in February.