Russia’s Duma has passed a resolution calling on the President to immediately recognise breakaway regions Luhansk and Donetsk as independent from Ukraine.
The motion asks Vladimir Putin to formally recognise Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014 following fighting involving Russian-backed mercenaries.
This is not a binding resolution, and Putin still has the option of rejecting it or calling for amendments. If Russia did recognise Luhansk and Donetsk as independent, it would be the only country in the world to do so.
Russia accuses Ukraine of not abiding by the Minsk II Agreements, which commit both sides to withdrawing military forces from the area and oblige Ukraine to discuss questions of local governance with representatives from Luhansk and Donetsk.
However, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded to the news in a press conference by warning that "in case of approving the decision on recognition, Russia will de facto and de jure leave the Minsk Accords with all collateral consequences".
On Monday, the Duma postponed the vote on this motion after it emerged that the governing party United Russia had drafted its own alternative motion, which proposed giving various government bodies the opportunity to research the question and come up with their own proposals before calling for recognition of the regions.
But in Tuesday’s (February 15) vote, it was the original motion, called by the Communist Party, which passed. This means that Russia could officially recognise the breakaway regions of Ukraine at any time.
Any such recognition would mean an abandonment of Russia’s obligations under the Minsk Agreements, creating even more uncertainty around security in Eastern Europe.
Speaker of the House Vyacheslav Volodin backed the motion, writing on Telegram before the vote that “Fighting continues, people are dying. We must find a solution.”
Russia’s army claimed that it was beginning to withdraw troops amassed on the border following military exercises on Tuesday, but it was not clear how many troops were being withdrawn or where.
The two developments (troops being withdrawn and the Duma’s call for recognition of an independent Luhansk and Donetsk) come on the same day that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives in Moscow for talks with Putin. It seems likely that they were co-ordinated in an effort to convince Europe of the urgency of these last-minute talks, as reported by bne IntelliNews.