In escalation of tensions, Putin to formally recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine

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Such a move will be seen as a huge provocation by Ukraine, the U.S. and its European allies, and it could trigger further violence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will formally recognize the independence of two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine where Russia has been supporting armed separatists in an eight-year conflict, the Kremlin said Monday. The move by Putin will likely be seen by the United States and its European allies as a dramatic provocation and possibly part of a pretext to invade Ukraine. Many experts believe that Moscow’s formal recognition will effectively scuttle a previous ceasefire agreement that some Western allies hoped could provide a route out of the crisis.

Over the past week, the Russian parliament and top officials have asked Putin to formally recognize the Ukrainian regions, which have self-proclaimed themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. Both have been under the control of Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

On Monday, a Kremlin statement said Putin “intended to sign the decree in the near future.” Earlier Monday, the Moscow-backed leaders of the two breakaway regions had formally asked Putin to do the same. Last week, separatist leaders called for evacuations of civilians to Russia, warning of an imminent Ukrainian offensive. Ukraine has repeatedly denied any plans to carry out attacks on the region, saying it wants a resolution by diplomatic means.

More than 60,000 evacuees have arrived in Russia as of Monday, according to Russian emergency ministry officials.

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