Putin recognizes the independence of Russia-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized the independence of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine – a move that will seriously escalate tensions with the West amid fears his country could invade Ukraine at any time and use skirmishes as a pretext for an attack.

Putin’s announcement comes after a presidential Security Council meeting and paves the way for Russia to openly send troops and weapons into the long-running conflict between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed rebels. A 2015 peace deal ended large-scale fighting, but violence has simmered and spiked in recent weeks amid the wider crisis.

More soon

This is a breaking update. An earlier version of this story can be read below.

The last:

  • French and German leaders expressed disappointment after hearing the decision.
  • The EU must impose sanctions if Russia annexes or recognizes breakaway regions.
  • Moscow says Ukrainian saboteurs tried to enter Russia; Kiev denies the accusation.
  • In Washington, US President Joe Biden summons his top security advisers.
  • European financial markets collapsed on signs of heightened confrontation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon sign a decree recognizing two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, the Kremlin has said, upping the ante in a crisis the West fears could spark a war.

Putin announced his decision in phone calls to German and French leaders, who expressed disappointment, the Kremlin said in a reading of the calls.

Moscow’s move could torpedo a last-minute bid for a summit with US President Joe Biden to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine. The ruble extended losses as Putin spoke out on the issue, falling 3.3% on the day to 79.83 to the dollar.

PICTURES | Ukrainian troops on the front line in the rebel-held east:

The European Union has warned of sanctions from the 27-nation bloc if Moscow annexes or recognizes breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and largely controlled by Russian-backed separatists.

Reconnaissance of rebel-held areas could provide a pretext for Russian troops to cross the border into those areas.

It will also reduce diplomatic options to avoid war, since it is an explicit rejection of a seven-year ceasefire brokered by France and Germany, presented as the framework for future negotiations on the wider crisis.

Separately, Moscow said Ukrainian military saboteurs tried to enter Russian territory in armed vehicles, killing five, a charge dismissed as “fake news” by Kiev.

Both developments fit a pattern repeatedly predicted by Western governments, who accuse Russia of preparing to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine by blaming Kiev for attacks and relying on calls for help. separatist proxies.

Hours earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron held out hope for a diplomatic solution, saying Putin and US President Joe Biden had agreed in principle to meet.

WATCH | Biden agrees “in principle” to a summit with Putin:

Biden ‘in principle’ agrees to summit with Putin if Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine

US President Joe Biden has tentatively agreed to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the condition that Russia does not invade Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron helped broker the high-stakes meeting. 3:37

But the Kremlin said there were no specific plans for a summit. The White House said Biden agreed to the meeting “in principle,” but only “if an invasion did not occur.”

In Washington, Biden summoned his top security advisers. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, could be seen entering the White House during the holiday break Of the president.

Washington says Russia has amassed a force of 169,000 to 190,000 troops in the region, including pro-Russian rebels in breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, and could invade within days. Reconnaissance of rebel-held areas could also provide a pretext for Russian troops to cross the border into those areas.

WATCH | Russian equipment rumbles towards the Ukrainian border:

War fear mounts as Russian equipment rumbles towards Ukrainian border

CBC correspondent Briar Stewart is near Uspinka, Russia, reporting on convoys of Russian military vehicles heading for the Ukrainian border. 1:21

Russia denies any plan to attack its neighbor but has threatened unspecified ‘military-technical’ action unless it receives sweeping security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join the NATO.

European financial markets slumped on signs of heightened confrontation, after briefly advancing on glimmers of hope that a summit could offer a way out of Europe’s biggest military crisis in decades. The price of oil – Russia’s main export – rose, while Russian stocks and the ruble plunged.

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