MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized the independence of rebel Moscow-backed regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that will further fuel tensions with the West amid fears of an invasion. Russian.
Putin’s move follows days of heightened tensions in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces are locked in a nearly eight-year conflict with Russian-backed separatists that has done more of 14,000 dead.
Here is an overview of rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine:
SEPARATIST REBELLION IN THE EAST
When Ukraine’s president, a friend of Moscow, was forced out of office by mass protests in February 2014, Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. He then threw his weight behind an insurgency in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine region known as Donbass.
In April 2014, Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, proclaimed the creation of “people’s republics” and fought Ukrainian troops and volunteer battalions.
The following month, the breakaway regions held a popular vote to declare independence and bid to become part of Russia. Moscow did not accept the motion, instead using the regions as a tool to keep Ukraine in its orbit and prevent it from joining NATO.
Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting the rebels with troops and weapons. Moscow denied this, saying all the Russians who fought there were volunteers.
Amid fierce battles involving tanks, heavy artillery and fighter jets, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people in edge. An international investigation has concluded that the airliner was shot down by a Russian-supplied missile from rebel-held Ukrainian territory. Moscow has always denied any involvement.
PEACE AGREEMENTS FOR EASTERN UKRAINE
After a massive defeat of Ukrainian troops in August 2014, envoys from Kyiv, rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe signed a truce in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in September 2014.
The document called for an OSCE-observed ceasefire, a withdrawal of all foreign fighters, an exchange of prisoners and hostages, an amnesty for rebels and a promise that breakaway regions could have some degree of peace. ‘autonomy.
The deal quickly fell apart and full-scale fighting resumed, leading to another major defeat of Ukrainian forces at Debaltseve in January–February 2015.
France and Germany negotiated another peace agreement, which was signed in Minsk in February 2015 by representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the rebels. He envisaged a new ceasefire, a withdrawal of heavy weapons and a series of steps towards a political settlement. A statement supporting the deal was signed by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.
A FROZEN CONFLICT IN UKRAINE
The 2015 peace deal was a major diplomatic coup for the Kremlin, forcing Ukraine to grant special status to breakaway regions, allowing them to create their own police force and have a say in the appointment of local prosecutors and judges. It also predicted that Ukraine could only regain control of the roughly 200 kilometer (125 mile) border with Russia in rebel areas after it was granted autonomy and held OSCE-monitored local elections – a poll that would almost certainly keep pro-Moscow rebels in power there.
Many Ukrainians see it as a betrayal of national interests and its implementation has stalled.
The Minsk Document helped end large-scale fighting, but the situation remained tense and regular skirmishes continued.
With the Minsk agreement stalled, Moscow’s hopes of using the rebel regions to directly influence Ukrainian politics failed, but the frozen conflict drained Kiev’s resources and effectively thwarted its goal of joining the NATO – which is enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution.
Moscow has also worked to secure its hold on rebel regions by distributing more than 720,000 Russian passports to around a fifth of their population of around 3.6 million. It provided economic and financial aid to the breakaway territories, but the aid was insufficient to mitigate the massive damage caused by the fighting and shore up the economy. The Donbass region accounted for around 16% of Ukraine’s GDP before the conflict.
EFFORTS TO REVIVE THE PEACE AGREEMENT
Amid growing tensions over the concentration of Russian troops near Ukraine, France and Germany have renewed their efforts to encourage compliance with the 2015 agreement, in the hope that it could help defuse the current stalemate.
Faced with calls from Berlin and Paris for its implementation, Ukrainian officials have stepped up their criticism of the Minsk agreement and warned that it could lead to the country’s demise. Two rounds of talks in Paris and Berlin between presidential envoys from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany yielded no progress.
Russia’s lower house of parliament, meanwhile, urged Putin last week to recognize the independence of Ukraine’s rebel regions.
PUTIN RECOGNIZES THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE REBEL REGIONS
Putin’s recognition of the independence of rebel-held territories is shattering the Minsk peace accords and will further fuel tensions with the West. He said Moscow would sign friendship treaties with rebel territories, a move that could pave the way for Russia to openly support them with troops and weapons.
This decision follows several days of shelling that broke out along the line of contact in Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fomenting tensions to create a pretext for an invasion. Russia, in turn, has accused Ukraine of trying to recover rebel-held territories by force, a claim Kiev has firmly rejected.
On Friday, separatist leaders released video statements announcing the evacuation of civilians in the face of what they described as Ukrainian “aggression”. Data embedded in the video indicated that their statements had been pre-recorded two days earlier when the situation was still relatively calm, suggesting a deliberate plan to try to separate the regions of Ukraine.
Rebel leaders released new video statements on Monday urging Putin to recognize their regions’ independence and the Russian leader responded quickly by calling a carefully orchestrated meeting of his Security Council and then signing the recognition decrees at a televised ceremony.
Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
More AP coverage of the Ukraine crisis: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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