MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russian leader Vladimir Putin got the green light from his upper house of parliament on Tuesday (Feb 22) to deploy Russian military forces to two separatist-held regions of eastern Ukraine for what lawmakers said would be a "peacekeeping" mission.
Inflaming a crisis with the West, the upper chamber's lawmakers voted unanimously in favour after Putin asked for permission to deploy forces abroad. That step came after Moscow recognised the independence of the Ukrainian regions on Monday, triggering international condemnation and sanctions.
The decision takes immediate effect, senior lawmaker Andrei Klishas told the chamber.
"By approving the use of the armed forces abroad, we assume they will be peacekeeping forces - forces designed to maintain peace and stability in the (self-proclaimed east Ukrainian) republics," Valentina Matvienko, the upper house's speaker, said before the vote.
As lawmakers met to discuss the idea, the Kremlin announced Putin had ratified friendship treaties with two Moscow-backed Ukrainian breakaway republics.
Russia says that step allows it to build military bases there, deploy troops, agree a joint defence posture and tighten economic integration.
The move comes amid a crisis over a huge Russian military buildup near Ukraine that has fuelled fears of an invasion, which Moscow denies planning.