Blinken warns Russia against declaring Ukraine breakaway regions independent

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the move would be illegal and draw a swift response. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday (Feb 16) criticised a move by Russian lawmakers toward recognising two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, saying it would be illegal and draw a swift response.

Russia's lower House of Parliament voted on Tuesday to ask President Vladimir Putin to recognise the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, and the European Union told Moscow not to follow through.

"Enactment of this resolution would further undermine Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, constitute a gross violation of international law, call into further question Russia's stated commitment to continue to engage in diplomacy to achieve a peaceful resolution of this crisis," Mr Blinken said.

He also said the move would "necessitate a swift and firm response from the United States in full coordination with our Allies and partners".

The move by Russia's State Duma, if approved, could inflame a wider standoff over a Russian military build-up near Ukraine that has fuelled Western fears that Moscow could attack. Russia denies any invasion plans and has accused the West of hysteria.

Recognition of the self-declared regions could kill the Minsk peace process in eastern Ukraine, where a conflict in the region known as Donbass between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has cost 15,000 lives.

Mr Blinken said such a move would amount to "the Russian government's wholesale rejection of its commitments under the Minsk agreements".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Putin had "taken note" of the parliament's request but that it would not be line with the 2014-15 Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict.

The comment appeared to indicate that Mr Putin would not rush into recognising the separatist areas, but might keep such an option in reserve.

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