Russian lawmakers move to recognise Ukraine separatists

Russian party leaders will next week discuss the communists' initiative before potentially putting it to the vote. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (AFP, REUTERS) - Russia's parliament will consider asking President Vladimir Putin to officially recognise breakaway statelets in Ukraine, a senior lawmaker said on Friday (Jan 21), against the backdrop of tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.

Communist lawmakers this week tabled legislation in the lower house calling on Putin to recognise the self-proclaimed Lugansk and Donetsk people's republics in eastern Ukraine.

The regions bordering Russia, collectively known as Donbass, have been locked in armed conflict with Kyiv's army since a Kremlin-backed insurgency following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.

"One thing is absolutely clear: it is necessary to seek a solution to ensure the safety of our citizens and countrymen" in the breakaway regions, Russia's lower house speaker Vyacheslav Volodin wrote on Telegram.

He said party leaders will next week discuss the communists' initiative before potentially putting it to the vote.

In the post, Volodin accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of ignoring peace agreements dating from 2015 and claimed Nato was seeking to "occupy" Ukraine.

"Both could result in tragedy. We cannot allow this to happen," he said, claiming the bill already has the support of most parties in the Duma.

However, the Kremlin reacted coolly on Friday to the initiative, saying it was important to avoid steps that could increase tensions.  

 Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, speaking before top diplomats from the United States and Russia meet for talks in Geneva, said it was important not to try and score political points in such a fragile situation.  

Peskov said the Kremlin was not expecting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to hand over a written response to its sweeping demands for security guarantees from the West on Friday. 

The West accuses Russia of planning an invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow demanding security guarantees from Nato in exchange for a de-escalation.

A flurry of diplomatic efforts have so far failed to ease tensions. Mr Blinken meets Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Friday.

Russia has previously recognised the independence of two breakaway regions of Georgia - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - following a brief war with the ex-Soviet country in 2008.

Putin in 2019 signed a decree simplifying Russian passport applications for Donetsk and Lugansk residents.

More than 600,000 people living in Donbass are holders of Russian passports, the Interfax news agency reported in July last year.

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