President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that Russia would recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent.
Russian-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian government forces in the Donbas region since 2014, in a conflict that Kyiv says has cost around 15,000 lives.
The Russian recognition of the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk territories buries a fragile peace process regulating the long-running conflict in eastern Ukraine and further increases tensions between Russia and the West.
Pretext for Russia to invade Ukraine?
Western powers fear such a move could be used as a pretext for Russia to invade its neighbor. That’s because, since 2019, Russia has issued large numbers of passports to people living in the two regions.
Analysts say that if Donetsk and Luhansk were recognized as independent, Russia might send troops into Ukraine’s east under the guise of protecting its own citizens.
Putin has been warned that if he follows through with this move to recognize the independence of the two self-declared republics in Ukraine, the EU is likely to impose sanctions.
“If there is annexation, there will be sanctions, and if there is recognition, I will put the sanctions on the table and the ministers will decide,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said earlier.
Borrell urged Putin to not recognize the separatist republics of Donbas.
“We call upon President Putin to respect international law and the Minsk agreements and expect him not to recognize the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblast. And we are ready to react with a strong united front in case he should decide to do so,” said Borrell at a press conference on Monday following a meeting of EU’s foreign ministers in Brussels.
The recognition of the territories comes as the Ukraine conflict escalated sharply on Monday, with Moscow claiming it had killed five Ukrainian “saboteurs” who crossed its border.
However, Ukraine authorities said “Not a single one of our soldiers has crossed the border with the Russian Federation, and not a single one has been killed today.”
Putin-Biden summit now in doubt
Earlier on Monday, the office of French President Emmanuel Macron announced that U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed in principle to a summit over the Ukraine crisis, so long as Moscow does not invade Ukraine.
In a statement, the Elysee Palace said Macron had pitched both leaders to hold a summit about “security and strategic stability in Europe”.
“Presidents Biden and Putin have both accepted the principle of such a summit,” the statement said, stressing that such a meeting would be impossible if Russia invaded Ukraine, as Western nations fear is its intention.
The White House later confirmed the planned summit.
The US is “committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “President Biden accepted in principle a meeting with President Putin … if an invasion hasn’t happened.”
Following Putin’s recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, the summit is now in doubt.