Russia’s parliament on Tuesday urged President Vladimir Putin to recognize the independence of two Russian-backed breakaway regions in Ukraine, a move that could threaten diplomatic efforts to avoid a broader war between the two countries.
Lawmakers in the Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house, voted overwhelmingly in favor of sending an appeal directly to Putin asking him to recognize occupied portions of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as self-standing “people’s republics.” The Kremlin said no official decision on the demand had been made.
Recognition of the two regions in eastern Ukraine as independent would largely invalidate the Minsk process, a set of agreements that Russia and Ukraine signed in 2014 and 2015 guaranteeing the regions would remain part of Ukraine, albeit with “special status.”
The leaders of countries such as France, Germany and the U.S. have pointed to the Minsk agreements as a possible basis for talks regarding Russia’s massive troop build-up along the Ukrainian border. Moscow refuses to remove its forces unless NATO allies significantly roll back their presence in Eastern Europe — a request the military alliance has mostly dismissed as unreasonable.
Russia has repeatedly denied it is planning to invade Ukraine and has condemned such claims as Western “hysteria.”
After the parliament vote, Western allies were swift to denounce the move, warning that diplomatic efforts could rupture if the Kremlin signs off on the recognition.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made that point standing next to Putin, speaking after the two leaders met to discuss ongoing military tensions.
“That would be a violation of these agreements,” he said during a joint press conference. “That would be a political disaster.” Only when all sides “honor” the agreements, Scholz added, “can we move forward.”
In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Scholz’s sentiment.
“If that happens, that would be a blatant violation of Ukraine’s territory and sovereignty once again,” he said.
And in an interview with BBC, Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko questioned how Kyiv could negotiate if the recognition takes place.
“If you take such a step, how can you expect Ukraine to make a concession?” he said.
Russia and Ukraine have disagreed for years over the Minsk agreements, diverging on how much power local governments in the regions should have on national decisions. The accords have also failed to prevent the ongoing war in the region, now in its eighth year.
Earlier on Tuesday, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to the Minsk process and said no official decisions had been made on recognizing the independence of the regions.
“Russia has repeatedly declared that it remains committed to the Minsk package of measures and is a supporter of the implementation of the entire Minsk action plan as soon as possible,” he told state-linked news agency TASS.
Lawmakers shut down an alternative proposition by Putin’s United Russia party to send the appeal to multiple state departments for consultation first, which could have extended deliberations.
State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said on his Telegram channel that the resolution would be signed immediately and sent to Putin.
“The deputies believe that the recognition of the [Donetsk People’s Republic] and the [Luhansk People’s Republic] will create the basis for ensuring the security and protection of the inhabitants of the republics against external threats as well as for strengthening international peace and regional stability,” he said.