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Putin ponders independence of breakaway Ukraine regions

MOSCOW (AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin summoned top officials on Monday to consider recognizing the independence of Russia-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

The presidential Security Council meeting comes amid concerns in the West that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time, using the fighting in eastern Ukraine as a pretext for an attack.

Putin’s statement follows televised statements by separatist leaders, who have begged Putin to recognize them as independent states and sign friendship treaties with plans for military aid to protect them. them from what they describe as Ukraine’s ongoing military offensive. Russia’s lower house of parliament made a similar plea last week.

Ukrainian authorities deny launching an attack and accuse Russia of provocation amid increased shelling along the line of communication.

The Kremlin initially signaled reluctance to take a move that could disrupt a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine, marking a major diplomatic coup for Moscow, demanding that the Ukrainian authorities give extensive autonomy for rebel regions.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. The AP’s previous story follows.

The presidents of the United States and Russia are expected to agree to meet in a last-ditch effort to prevent a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, even as protracted shelling continued Monday in the conflict in Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine, which Western powers fear could spark a larger war.

If Russia invades, as the United States warned, which Moscow has decided to do, the meeting will be adjourned. The prospect of a face-to-face summit, however, has revived hopes that diplomacy can avert a devastating conflict, resulting in massive casualties and economic damage across Europe, which heavily dependent on Russian energy.

Russia has concentrated about 150,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine – the largest troop increase since the Cold War. And Western officials have warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is now looking for an excuse to invade the country, a Western-looking democracy that has defied Moscow’s efforts to pull it back into its orbit. me.

Even as diplomatic efforts inched up, potential flashpoints multiply. Fighting escalated in eastern Ukraine, Russia said it had resisted “infiltration” from Ukraine – something Ukrainian officials denied – and Russia decided to prolong military exercises in Belarus.

Moscow denies it has any plans to attack but wants the West to ensure that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet states to join as members. It has also demanded that the coalition stop deploying weapons to Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

With the prospect of war looming, French President Emmanuel Macron scrambled to broker a meeting between US Presidents Joe Biden and Putin.

Macron’s office said both leaders had “accepted the principle of such a summit”, followed by a broader meeting including “other relevant stakeholders to discuss security”. security and strategic stability in Europe.”

Language from Moscow and Washington was more cautious, but neither side denied a meeting was being discussed.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration was always ready to negotiate to prevent war – but was also prepared to respond to any attack.

“So when President Macron asked President Biden yesterday if he was prepared in principle to meet President Putin, if Russia didn’t invade, of course President Biden said yes,” he said. told NBC’s “Today” show on Monday. “But every indication we see on the ground about the deployment of Russian forces is that they are, in fact, preparing for a major attack on Ukraine.”

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

Macron’s office said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were preparing to lay the groundwork for a potential summit when they meet on Thursday. The French leader is trying to go between to prevent a new war in Europe and his announcement follows a series of calls by Macron to Putin, Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Even as foreign policy moves forward, there are signs that it may not lead to a broader conflict. Russia and its ally Belarus announced on Sunday that they are expanding major war games on the territory of Belarus, which could form the basis for an attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, located just 75 kilometers from the border. (less than 50 miles) south.

Starting Thursday, shelling also spiked along the tense line of communication separating Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. More than 14,000 people have been killed since conflict broke out there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.

Ukraine and separatist rebels have been blamed for major ceasefire violations with hundreds of explosions recorded daily. The world is watching the skirmish with caution as Western officials have warned for weeks that Russia will find an excuse to invade – and the conflict in the Donbas could be just one such pretext.

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

While Russian-backed separatists allege that Ukrainian forces are firing on residential areas, Associated Press journalists report from several towns and villages in Ukrainian-held territory along the road. Communications have not witnessed any noticeable escalation from the Ukrainian side and have noted signs of intense separatist shelling that has destroyed homes and cut roads.

Some residents of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk described sporadic shelling by Ukrainian forces, but they added that it was not on the scale it was previously in the nearly eight-year conflict. year in the east.

The separatist government on Monday said at least four civilians had been killed by Ukrainian shelling in the past 24 hours and several others were injured. The Ukrainian military said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the weekend and another was wounded on Monday.

Ukraine’s military spokesman, Pavlo Kovalchyuk, said that the separatists had “artificially opened fire from residential areas, using civilians as shields”. He asserted that Ukrainian forces did not return fire.

In another worrisome sign, Moscow also alleges that forces from Ukraine have flooded into Russia’s Rostov region. The Russian military said it killed five “saboteurs” suspected of crossing the border from Ukraine and also destroyed two armored vehicles. Ukrainian Border Guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko dismissed the Russian claim as “false information”.

Amid growing fears of invasion, US authorities have sent a letter to the UN’s human rights chief claiming that Moscow has drawn up a list of Ukrainians to be killed or taken away. to detention camps after the invasion. The letter, first reported by the New York Times, was obtained by the AP.

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

Throughout the crisis, Ukraine’s leaders have sought to remain calm – repeatedly eliminating the risk of an invasion.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Monday said Russia has amassed 147,000 troops around Ukraine, including 9,000 in Belarus, arguing that the number is clearly insufficient for an assault on the Ukrainian capital from North.

“Talking about an attack on Kyiv from Belarus sounds ridiculous,” he said, adding that Russia was using troops there as a scare tactic.

The European Union’s top diplomat, foreign policy head Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit but said the 27-nation bloc had finalized a package of sanctions to use. if Putin orders an invasion.

“The job is done. We’re ready,” Borrell said. He did not provide details on who might be targeted.

Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday that the European Union had also agreed to send military officers to the country in an advisory role. It may take several months to set up.

___

Karmanau reported from Kyiv, 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.

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https://www.winknews.com/2022/02/21/putin-mulls-independence-of-separatist-ukraine-regions/ Putin ponders independence of breakaway Ukraine regions

Tom Vazquez

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