Ukraine-Russia crisis news from February 21: Russian president says troops to ‘maintain peace’ in Donetsk and Luhansk, areas he earlier recognised as independent.
Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian troops to “maintain peace” in two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, hours after the Russian president recognised Donetsk and Luhansk as independent entities.
In two official decrees, Putin on Monday instructed the country’s defence ministry to assume “the function of maintaining peace” in the eastern regions.
The West has repeatedly warned Russia not to recognise the separatist regions in Donetsk and Luhansk – a move that effectively buries a fragile peace process in the region.
Putin’s announcement paved the way for Russia to openly send troops and weapons to the long-running conflict pitting Ukrainian forces against Moscow-backed rebels.
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The United States said it supports Ukraine’s call for an urgent UN Security Council meeting, calling Russia’s recognition of two Ukrainian breakaway regions an “unprovoked violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
“The Security Council must demand that Russia respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, a UN Member State,” US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement.
We support Ukraine’s call for an urgent meeting of the @UN Security Council. We must all stand with Ukraine in the face of Russia’s brazen attempt to usurp Ukraine’s sovereign territory. There can be no fence-sitters in this crisis. https://t.co/SI81WBLkmZ
— Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (@USAmbUN) February 21, 2022
Russia has acquired the right to build military bases in Ukraine’s two breakaway regions under new agreements with their separatist leaders, according to a copy of an agreement signed by Putin published on Monday.
Russia and the breakaway regions also plan to sign separate agreements on military cooperation and protection of borders, according to draft laws that Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament will consider on Tuesday.
John Herbst called Russia’s recognition of the independence of two Ukrainian breakaway region a “major escalation”, urging the Biden administration to start imposing serious sanctions on Moscow.
“We’re gonna have to put down at least one serious sanction in response,” Herbst, who now serves as senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, told Al Jazeera. “If we’re not, we’re repeating the exact same mistake we made in Crimea eight years ago.”
He said imposing sanctions on at least one large Russian bank or the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, for example, would be appropriate now.
In a phone call on Monday, the leaders of the US, France and Germany discussed how they “will continue to coordinate their response on next steps” against Russia.
“The leaders strongly condemned President Putin’s decision to recognize the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine as ‘independent’,” the White House said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believes Russia has violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by recognising Donetsk and Luhansk as independent entities, a spokesperson said.
“The United Nations, in line with the relevant General Assembly resolutions, remains fully supportive of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
During a phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, US President Joe Biden “strongly condemned” Russia’s decision to recognise the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, the White House said.
“By recognising the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, Russia is violating its commitments and undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty. I condemn this decision,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.
“I have asked for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council and European sanctions.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia’s recognition of east Ukraine’s breakaway region requires a “swift and firm response”, tweeting that Washington and its partners will take “appropriate steps” against Moscow.
In a separate statement, Blinken also slammed Moscow’s decision as “yet another example of President Putin’s flagrant disrespect for international law and norms”.
Kremlin recognition of the so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics” as “independent” requires a swift and firm response, and we will take appropriate steps in coordination with partners.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) February 21, 2022
Putin has ordered Russia’s military to “maintain peace” in two breakaway regions of Ukraine that he recognised as independent.
In two official decrees, the Russian president instructed the country’s defence ministry to assume “the function of maintaining peace” in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Britain will announce new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday over what she called Moscow’s “breach of international law and attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty”.
Tomorrow we will be announcing new sanctions on Russia in response to their breach of international law and attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) February 21, 2022
US and European leaders were swift to condemn Putin’s recognition of two regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics on Monday, with the UK calling the move a “flagrant violation” of the sovereignty of Ukraine.
Click here to read some of the international reactions to the Russian decision.
I condemn #Russia recognition of Donetsk/Luhansk in #Ukraine. It erodes efforts to resolve the conflict & violates Minsk agreements. #NATO supports Ukraine sovereignty & territorial integrity. We urge Moscow to stop fuelling conflict & choose diplomacy. https://t.co/H4yczPG8XM
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) February 21, 2022
More than 20 US lawmakers from both major parties, who attended the Munich Security Conference, pledged to support a “free and peaceful Ukraine” against a possible Russian invasion.
“We as a bipartisan delegation will bring home the same unity and resolve we have seen among our Atlantic allies against Russian aggression,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
“We pledge to work toward whatever emergency supplemental legislation will best support our NATO allies and the people of Ukraine, and support freedom and safety around the world.”
Putin recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics on Monday. Click here to read the key parts from the Russian president’s televised speech on Ukraine.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg denounced President Putin’s recognition of rebel-held areas in east Ukraine, saying it violated international agreements Moscow had signed.
“I condemn Russia’s decision to extend recognition to the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’. This further undermines Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk Agreements, to which Russia is a party,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
President Biden will soon issue an executive order prohibiting new investment, trade, and financing by Americans to, from, or in the two breakaway regions of Ukraine, a spokesperson said.
“We have anticipated a move like this from Russia and are ready to respond immediately,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“To be clear: these measures are separate from and would be in addition to the swift and severe economic measures we have been preparing in coordination with Allies and partners should Russia further invade Ukraine.”
President Putin has claimed that ethnic Russians living in eastern Ukraine are being killed in large numbers, without offering any evidence to support the allegations.
“The so-called civilised world prefers to ignore the genocide committed by Kyiv in the Donbass,” he said.
The US recently said it believed that Russia was likely to use the accusation of genocide as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has always vehemently denied having any plans for an attack.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called Russia’s decision to recognise two regions controlled by separatists as independent “an act of aggression against Ukraine” and said sanctions should be imposed immediately against Moscow.
“The decision to recognise the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ is a final rejection of dialogue and a flagrant violation of international law. This is an act of aggression against Ukraine, which must be met with an unequivocal response in the form of immediate sanctions,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter.
European Union leaders denounced President Putin’s decision and warned the bloc will react with sanctions.
“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,” EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel each tweeted.
“The EU and its partners will react with unity, firmness and with determination in solidarity with Ukraine,” they said.
In a joint statement, von der Leyen and Michel said: “The Union will react with sanctions against those involved in this illegal act.”
The Russian leader 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.
The announcement comes amid soaring tensions over the situation in Ukraine, where Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops near the border.
Putin’s announcement comes after a meeting of the presidential Security Council and paves the way for Russia to openly send troops and weapons to the long-running conflict
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskuy says he spoke to US President Joe Biden as Russia moved to recognise two regions controlled by Russian-backed separatists as independent.
Zelenskyy tweeted he also planned to speak to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and he was starting a meeting of his national security and defence council.
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukrainian forces of killing civilians by shelling residential areas in separatist-held eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine has denied targeting civilians and accuses Russia-backed separatists of shelling residential areas, something they in turn deny.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk was “plainly in breach of international law” and was a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty” of Ukraine.
Johnson said he will have to see exactly what happens in breakaway regions of Ukraine when asked whether it was time to impose sanctions on Russia, but that the West had to apply as much pressure as possible.
“What I have said before about the package of sanctions is that they will be triggered with the first toecap of a Russian incursion or Russian invasion. But plainly what has happened is extremely bad news.”
President Vladimir Putin says Ukraine’s entry into NATO has already been decided in advance.
He added the alliance has completely ignored Russia’s concerns about NATO’s advances in the region, and Moscow’s demands for security guarantees were “completely rejected”.
“Russia has every right to protect its security, and that’s what we’ll do,” said Putin. “If Ukraine was to join NATO it would serve as a direct threat to the security of Russia.”
Vladimir Putin says Ukraine plans to build its own nuclear weapons, calling it an unacceptable move for Moscow.
In a televised address, Putin claimed Ukraine sought to achieve it by using Soviet technology.
“We know that there have already been reports that Ukraine wants to make its own nuclear weapons. This is no empty boast,” Putin said. “Ukraine in fact still has Soviet nuclear technology and delivery
systems for such weapons.”
Vladimir Putin says Ukraine’s authorities are “contaminated” by the virus of nationalism and corruption, bashing the neighbouring country’s leaders.
In a televised address, the Russian president also said Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.
“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,” said Putin.
The EU has joined calls for Russia not to annex or recognise breakaway Ukrainian regions, warning of sanctions from the 27-nation bloc should Moscow do so.
“If there is annexation, there will be sanctions, and if there is recognition, I will put the sanctions on the table and the ministers will decide,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers.
French President Emmanuel Macron called an emergency national security meeting to address developments linked to the crisis in Ukraine, the Elysee Palace has said.
Macron earlier on Monday spoke to the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, the Elysee said in a statement. He also spoke to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and EU leaders to coordinate Europe’s reaction to the latest developments.
President Vladimir Putin will deliver a video address to the nation on television later in the evening, the Rossiya-24 state television channel said.
It did not say exactly when it would happen, but that it would be soon.
Putin said earlier that Russia would decide whether or not to recognise the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine later on Monday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock that the Minsk agreements are the only way for long-term regulation of the Ukrainian internal crisis, Russia’s foreign ministry said.
Lavrov, who spoke to Baerbock by phone, said Germany should put pressure on the Ukrainian leadership to prompt it to adopt a more constructive position amid the unfolding crisis in eastern Ukraine, the ministry added.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said that after Russian statements on possible recognition of breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, everyone has to focus on de-escalation efforts.
“Everyone realizes consequences. A lot of emotions out there, but it’s exactly now that we all should calmly focus on de-escalation efforts. No other way,” Kuleba tweeted.
Kuleba said he would discuss de-escalation efforts with US Secretary of State on Tuesday during a trip to Washington.
It would be “deplorable” if Russia recognised two regions of eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists as independent, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe said.
“If carried out, this would again result in the upending of the rules based international order, under the threat of force. This, dear colleagues, is deplorable, and … condemnable. And should be (condemned), by all of us,” Michael Carpenter said in a statement to a meeting of OSCE participating states.
US President Joe Biden is meeting his national security team about Russia and Ukraine, a White House official said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the White House official made the comments after a Reuters eyewitness saw Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrive at the White House on the US Presidents Day federal holiday.
British Defence Minister Ben Wallace has warned that imposing sanctions on Russia unilaterally would play into President Putin’s narrative.
Asked by a lawmaker whether it was now time to start imposing sanctions, Wallace said: “If we were to unilaterally deliver them now, and America wasn’t, and the European Union wasn’t, I think there is a danger that President Putin would play into a divide and rule narrative.”
President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia was considering recognising the independence of two breakaway Ukrainian regions, but not annexing them and formally adding them to its own territory.
He made the comments during a long televised meeting of Russia’s security council during which all the participants said they backed recognising the independence of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.
British Defence Minister Ben Wallace has said that there is strong cause to believe that President Putin is still committed to an invasion of Ukraine.
Wallace said there had been a continued increase in troop numbers near the border as well as a “proliferation” of so-called false flag events.
“We’ve seen over the last few weeks, the Russian playbook being implemented in a way that gives a strong cause for concern that President Putin is still committed to an invasion,” Wallace told parliament, urging Putin to rule out an invasion and recommit to a diplomatic process.
Putin has said that the residents of Donetsk and Luhansk didn’t recognize the 2014 protests in Ukraine that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanykovych.
The protests are known in Ukraine as “the revolution of dignity,” but Putin has for years called them a “coup.”
“The coup was anti-constitutional and bloody,” he said in televised remarks. “Kyiv authorities conducted two military, punishing operations in these regions,” he said.
He said the ongoing tensions in the region are a “third escalation” masterminded by Kyiv and its Western partners.
Three Western officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters news agency that Russian troops were now “poised” for an invasion of Ukraine while previously posturing for an invasion.
They said they did not know whether or not President Putin had yet ordered an invasion, but raised concerns about an increase in false provocations in Russian-backed rebel regions in Ukraine.
“Our concern about what we are seeing on the ground has only risen,” said one of the Western officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Our overall picture, I have to say, is a very dark one with storm clouds gathering on Ukraine’s borders.”
A second official said Russian forces continued to build up, including S-400s, aircraft and armoured vehicles being deployed into forward locations. Russia now has 110 battalion tactical groups in the area of operations, the official said.
“This is a move from being postured for military operations to being poised for military operations,” the official said.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin that Ukraine had built up serious forces near breakaway regions in the east of the country and may be preparing to try and take them back by force, something Kyiv has repeatedly denied.
Shoigu accused Ukraine of stepping up shelling of the breakaway regions. Earlier on Monday, Kyiv denied responsibility after Russia said a shell fired from Ukrainian territory had completely destroyed a border guard post in Russia’s Rostov region.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has dismissed Russia’s accusations of a border breach by Ukrainian forces.
“I categorically refute Russia’s disinformation. Ukraine did not attack Donetsk, Luhansk; didn’t send saboteurs or APCs across the border; didn’t shoot Russia’s territory or checkpoint at the border; didn’t organise diversions and doesn’t plan such actions,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I demand that Russia stops its fake [news] factory,” he added.
And why has trust in Western powers declined? Find out here.
Putin has told Russia’s Security Council it is necessary to consider an appeal from the leaders of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine for Moscow to recognise them as independent.
The Russian leader also warned that tensions with the West over Ukraine posed a looming threat to Moscow.
“The use of Ukraine as an instrument of confrontation with our country poses a serious, very big threat to us,” he said, adding that Moscow’s priority was “not confrontation, but security”.
The leaders of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, have asked Putin to recognise them as independent.
Should Russia take that step, it could pave the way for Moscow to openly send military forces into both regions, using the argument that it is intervening as an ally to protect them against Ukraine.
The United Kingdom’s government has seen intelligence that suggests Putin has put into motion a plan for invading Ukraine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman says.
“The intelligence we are seeing suggests that Russia intends to launch an invasion and that President Putin’s plan has already begun,” the spokesman told reporters.
“We’re seeing seen elements of the Russian playbook that we would expect to see in certain situations, starting to play out in real time.”
Ukraine has firmly denied Moscow’s claims that Russian forces killed five Ukrainian “saboteurs” who allegedly crossed the border to stage an attack.
“Not a single one of our soldiers has crossed the border with the Russian Federation, and not a single one has been killed today,” Anton Gerashchenko, an official at Ukraine’s interior ministry, told reporters.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, says the alleged incident in Rostov marks a “significant” development in the crisis.
“The information we are getting about this alleged incident is coming from the Russian military itself and not the separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine,” she said.
“This means the Russians are accusing the Ukrainian military of having armoured personnel carriers on Russian soil, which the Ukrainian military has denied as ‘fake news’ … [and] so this is going to be seen as a major escalation.”
Russia’s military has said that troops and border guards prevented a “diversionary reconnaissance” group from breaching the country’s border from Ukrainian territory and that five people had been killed, according to reports by Russian news agencies.
Ukraine rejected the report, calling it fake news, and said no Ukrainian forces were present in the region where the incident was alleged to have taken place.
Interfax cited the Russian military as saying that Ukrainian armed vehicles had been destroyed.
Biden had asked French President Emmanuel Macron to make Putin the offer of a summit, an official from the French presidency says.
“We’re slowly changing the course of things. We’re creating a diplomatic perspective the Kremlin accepts,” Reuters quoted the French presidential adviser as saying.
“He is a facilitator,” added the French presidential adviser, commenting on Macron’s role.
Lithuania’s foreign minister has called on the European Union to impose additional sanctions on Belarus for hosting Russian troops, suggesting such measures could target oil and potash exports.
“We have to be very specific about the cost for the current build-up for Belarus,” Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Brussels, where EU foreign ministers were meeting over the Ukraine crisis.
He added the bloc could also close loopholes in the existing sanctions it has already targeted Minsk with.
Kyiv has dismissed a claim from Moscow that Ukrainian forces had shelled and destroyed a Russian border post, denouncing it as “fake news” designed to inflame tensions.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) had earlier alleged that a projectile fired from Ukraine had destroyed a border facility used by its guards.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will speak with Putin by telephone later today in a further effort to ease tensions, a spokesman for Germany’s government says.
Steffen Hebestreit said the planned call “this afternoon” had been “closely coordinated” with Macron, who spoke to Putin on Sunday.
He said the talks were part of “joint diplomatic efforts” by the West to “prevent a catastrophe” in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s top security official has said his country welcomes the possibility of a summit between Biden and Putin but also warned that nothing can be solved without Kyiv’s involvement.
“No one can resolve our issue without us,” Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told a news briefing. “Everything should happen with our participation.”
Moscow says a shell fired from Ukraine has destroyed a border facility used by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
The security service said in a statement that the “unidentified projectile” had flattened the facility located about 150 metres (164 yards) from Russia’s border with Ukraine, in the country’s southwestern Rostov region.
The statement added that no one had been injured in the incident and that Russian military engineers had arrived at the scene. Video released by the FSB showed a small, apparently one-room building with its roof and walls caved in and a Russian flag leaning against strewn debris.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claim.
As diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions around Ukrainian continue, satellite images show new field deployments of armoured equipment and troops from Russian garrisons.
Read more here.
Macron has pointed to the 2015 Minsk Agreement between Kyiv and Moscow as the blueprint for a breakthrough in the Ukraine crisis.
The Minsk II deal, named after the Belarusian capital where it was settled, was aimed at ending the war in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv has battled Russian-backed separatists since they seized a swath of territory in the region in early 2014.
But the agreement, which came on the back of Minsk I, an earlier failed attempt at a ceasefire pact, was never fully implemented. Years on, there has been no full political settlement and the deadly fighting in Donbas continues.
Click here to read more.
Ukraine’s military says there have been 80 ceasefire violations by Russian-backed forces in conflict-hit eastern Ukraine within the past 24 hours.
The Joint Forces Operation (JFO) said in a statement that one soldier had been injured during an instance of shelling on Sunday which was in violation of the Minsk agreement.
“The occupation forces continue to cowardly shell positions of Ukrainian defenders from behind the civilian settlements, hiding behind civilians as behind a human shield,” JFO spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk said.
The JFO added there had been 94 instances of shelling on civilian settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions over the previous five days, injuring two people as well as damaging 44 homes and four schools.
Russia’s emergencies ministry has said more than 60,000 “refugees” from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine have crossed into Russia following evacuation orders issued by the territories’ separatist authorities last week, the RIA Novosti news agency reports.
Moscow-backed separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) have alleged in a statement released to Russian news agencies that a local “serviceman” has been killed during an attack on the breakaway region by Ukrainian forces.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the claim, which comes after multiple warnings by top Western officials that Russia could attempt to manufacture a “pretext” for invading Ukraine.
Al Jazeera’s Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, says Putin and Biden are “a long way away” from reaching a firm agreement on holding discussions.
“It is going to be up to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his meeting with his American counterpart, Antony Blinken, on Thursday whether or not Putin and the US president will meet,” she said.
“I think the Russians are going to be very clear that in order for that meeting [between Putin and Biden] to take place, the US president has to be willing to discuss Russia’s security concerns – that NATO does not expand any further eastwards and that there is no military equipment in NATO countries around Russia.”
The Kremlin has said Putin and Biden could set up a call or meeting any time but there were no concrete plans yet for a summit.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that although tensions were growing, diplomatic contacts were active.
But he dismissed reports that Russia had drawn up a list of Ukrainians to capture or kill after any invasion were an “absolute lie”. He also described as “highly unusual” a US embassy warning to Americans in Russia that they should prepare plans to leave the country if necessary.
The security alert cited media sources as saying there had been threats of attacks against shopping centres, railway and metro stations and other public places, including in Moscow, St Petersburg and areas near the Russia-Ukraine border.
Pro-Russian separatists have claimed they are engaged in a shoot-out with a Ukrainian “sabotage” group that entered the DPR earlier today.
The breakaway territory’s state security ministry alleged in a statement that the Ukrainians blew up an artillery and ammunition storage.
Al Jazeera could not independently verify the rebels’ claims, which come after multiple warnings by top Western officials that Russia could attempt to manufacture a “pretext” for invading Ukraine.
Ukraine hopes the proposed summit between Biden and Putin can be implemented and that Kyiv can join the meeting, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov says.
“I have hopes that this initiative, thanks to President Macron and supported by President Biden … will be implemented,” Reznikov told a news briefing.
France’s foreign minister says Paris sees a chance to resolve the Ukraine crisis after Biden and Putin accepted, in principle, to hold a summit.
“There is a diplomatic hope that was revived by the president” with the summit proposal, Clement Beaune told LCI TV, referring to Macron.
“If there is still a chance to avoid war, to avoid a confrontation and build a political and diplomatic solution, then we need to take it,” he added.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has accused Russia of playing an “irresponsible” game with the civilian population of eastern Ukraine and urged it to return to the negotiating table.
Sporadic shelling across the line dividing Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east has intensified since Thursday.
“I urgently call on the Russian government, on the Russian president: don’t play with human lives,” Baerbock told reporters after arriving in Brussels.
“What we have seen over the last 72 hours in terms of attacks, violent disputes is really concerning,” she added. “The responsibility lies with the Russian government which is why I call urgently on the Russian government: come back to the negotiating table. It is in your hands.”
Russian armed forces will return to their permanent bases when an “objective need” to do so arises, the Belarusian defence ministry has said, a day after announcing joint military drills with Russia would be extended.
The ministry said the troop withdrawal would depend to a large extent on a pullback of NATO forces from near the borders of Belarus and Russia.
Since fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014, separatist rebels of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics have been accused of being proxies for Russian interests, if not simply Russian soldiers in disguise.
But who exactly are the rebels in the statelets known as the DPR and LPR, home to 2.3 million and 1.5 million people respectively?
Read more here.
The EU supports the latest attempt to arrange further talks between Washington and Moscow to find a diplomatic solution, the bloc’s foreign policy chief says.
“Summit meetings, at the level of leaders, at the level of ministers, whatever format, whatever way of talking and sitting at the table and trying to avoid a war, is badly needed,” Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels.
“We will support anything that can make diplomatic conversations the best way, the only way to look for a solution to the crisis,” he added.
The US has warned the UN it has “credible information” that Russia has lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps” in the event of an invasion, according to a letter sent to the UN rights chief.
The letter, which came as Washington warned of an imminent invasion by Russian troops massed near the Ukrainian border, said the US is “deeply concerned” and warned of a potential “human rights catastrophe”.
Macron says Biden and Putin have agreed to a summit over Ukraine, offering a possible path out of one of the most dangerous European crises in decades.
Macron’s office said in a statement the French president had pitched to both leaders a summit on “security and strategic stability in Europe”.
A White House statement said Biden had accepted the meeting “in principle” but only “if an invasion hasn’t happened”.
PJ Crowley, former US assistant secretary of state, has said the West is working hard to simultaneously prevent a Russian invasion as well as to put something on the table that will deter Putin from sending his troops across the border.
“I think it is useful for Western leaders to continue to try to say: ‘If not this then what else could we help you with?’ to try to convince [Putin] that what’s happening in Ukraine and western Ukraine does not pose a threat to Russia,” Crowley told Al Jazeera.
“There have been constructive discussions about resurrecting treaties that have elapsed and other confidence-building measures, [and] transparency in terms of operations on NATO territory,” he added.
“At the end of the day, this is a crisis that Putin has created. He has assembled a formidable military force surrounding Ukraine and it will be his decision as to whether he carries out the invasion or not.”
The Russian threat against Ukraine will be at the top of the agenda in a gathering of EU foreign ministers later today in Brussels.
The bloc has warned it will impose sweeping sanctions on Moscow should it launch an attack, echoing threats made by the US and former member state, the United Kingdom.
More than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukraine’s army and Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The Russian president’s decision to recognise the independence of Ukrainian separatist regions draws condemnation.
About 4 million live in two pro-Russia statelets, including fighters who were born in Ukraine and Russian volunteers.
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Putin orders Russian forces to Ukraine rebel regions – Al Jazeera English
Ukraine-Russia crisis news from February 21: Russian president says troops to ‘maintain peace’ in Donetsk and Luhansk, areas he earlier recognised as independent.