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Ukraine latest Tensions mount as Russia recognises two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent

Putin described Ukraine as an integral part of Russia's history and said eastern Ukraine was ancient Russian land

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics, upping the ante in a crisis the West fears could lead to a full-scale war with Ukraine.

In a televised speech lasting close to an hour, Putin described Ukraine as an integral part of Russia's history and said eastern Ukraine was ancient Russian land and that he was confident that the Russian people would support his decision.

Putin announced his decision in phone calls to the leaders of Germany and France, who voiced disappointment, the Kremlin said, and was later shown on state television signing the decree with the leaders of the self-proclaimed republics in attendance.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen vowed the EU and its allies would react with “unity, firmness and with determination in solidarity with Ukraine”.

The recognition of the two separatist territories in Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements,” President von der Leyen said.

Moscow's move could torpedo a last-minute bid for a summit with US President Joe Biden to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, and the rouble extended its losses as Putin spoke on the issue, falling 3.3pc on the day to 79.83 per dollar.

Putin delivered a long televised address that ended with his announcement, delving into history as far back as the Ottoman empire and as recent as the tensions over NATO's eastward expansion - a key irritant for Moscow in the present crisis.

"I deem it necessary to make a decision that should have been made a long time ago - to immediately recognise the independence and sovereignty of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic," Putin said.

He said earlier that "if Ukraine was to join NATO it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia."

Responding, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the decision to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine was an "ill omen" and a flagrant breach of international law.

The Prime Minister was considering whether the actions could trigger the imposition of fresh sanctions on Russia.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Mr Putin's actions could not be allowed to go "unpunished".

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At a Downing Street press conference Mr Johnson said: "This is plainly in breach of international law, it's a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine.

"It is a repudiation of the Minsk process and the Minsk Agreements.

"I think it's a very ill omen and a very dark sign."

It was "yet another indication that things are moving in the wrong direction in Ukraine".

The move appears to have dashed hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough which had been raised with the possibility of talks between Mr Putin and US President Joe Biden.

Putin has for years worked to restore Russia's influence over nations that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Ukraine holding an important place in his ambitions.

Russia denies any plan to attack its neighbour, but it has threatened unspecified "military-technical" action unless it receives sweeping security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO.

Recognition of the rebel-held areas could pave the way for Moscow to send military forces into the two separatist regions - Donetsk and Luhansk - openly and argue that it is intervening as an ally to protect them against Ukraine.

A Russian parliament member and former Donetsk political leader, Alexander Borodai, has said that the separatists would then look to Russia to help them wrest control of the parts of the two regions that are still under the sway of Ukrainian forces.

Putin laid the blame for the recent escalation of tensions firmly at the feet of Kyiv and said “all the responsibility” of continuing or escalating tensions would be “on the conscience of the regime ruling in Kiev”.

"Those who seized power and keep power in Kyiv, we demand they stop the hostilities immediately. Otherwise, all the responsibility for the possible continuation of the bloodbath will be on the conscience of the regime that is ruling in Kyiv."

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