Putin says he may recognize breakaway regions of Ukraine

This handout video grab taken by the Belarussian Defence Ministry on Feb 19, 2022 and released on Feb 20, 2022, shows tanks during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection of the Union State's Response Force, at a firing range near Brest. (HANDOUT / MINISTRY OF DEFENCE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS / AFP)

MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin told his Security Council on Monday that Russia should consider recognizing the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, a step that would be certain to inflame its standoff with the West and Kyiv.

The Kremlin leader made the remark on state television shortly after the heads of two self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine publicly appealed to Putin to recognize their independence.

Putin told officials he thought it was clear Ukraine would not implement the Minsk peace process aimed at ending the conflict in the mainly Russian-speaking region between Ukrainian government forces and separatists that has cost 15,000 lives

The Moscow-backed regions have been thrust to the forefront of a crisis over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine that has fueled fears of an impending invasion. Russia denies planning to invade.

Putin told officials he thought it was clear Ukraine would not implement the Minsk peace process aimed at ending the conflict in the mainly Russian-speaking region between Ukrainian government forces and separatists that has cost 15,000 lives.

"It is clear to everyone that (Ukraine) is not going to do anything on this Minsk package of measures… Russia has made and is still making efforts to peacefully resolve all the difficult and tragic elements in the development of events, but today we are where we are," he said.

He made the remarks at a meeting of the Security Council that he chaired and which he said was aimed at determining Russia's next steps.

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Officials including the defense minister, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), two parliament speakers and other top officials weighed in.

The head of the FSB told Putin that the security situation in Donbass was deteriorating and that 70,000 people had been evacuated from them to Russia after separatists announced a mass evacuation on Friday.

Alleged Border Violation

Also on Monday, Russia said that its forces destroyed two Ukrainian combat vehicles that violated the Russian state border.

At about 6 am Moscow time (0300 GMT) in the border area of Russia's Rostov region, FSB officers discovered the penetration of a sabotage and reconnaissance group from Ukraine, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

People evacuated from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic queue outside a train before their evacuation to Russia, in the town of Taganrog on Feb 20, 2022. (ANDREY BORODULIN / AFP)

During the clash, two infantry fighting vehicles of the "Ukrainian Armed Forces entered Russia" to urgently evacuate the sabotage and reconnaissance group, according to the statement.To detain the intruders, the FSB border detachment requested reinforcements from the Southern Military District of the Russian armed forces, it said in a statement.

A unit of the Russian armed forces promptly arrived at the scene of the clash and destroyed "both Ukrainian vehicles" by using anti-tank weapons, it added.

Five members of the sabotage and reconnaissance group were killed, while there was no casualty among the Russian troops and the FSB officers, the ministry said.

Rejecting the allegation, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that "Ukraine did NOT send saboteurs or APCs (armored personnel carriers) over the Russian border, shell Russian territory" or "shell Russian border crossing."  

Hours earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron said Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden had agreed in principle on a meeting.

An adviser to Macron told Reuters that the French president had put the proposal to Putin at Biden's request.

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Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said a call or meeting between Putin and Biden could be set up at any time, but there were no concrete plans yet for a summit. Tensions were growing, he said, but a foreign ministers' meeting was possible this week.

Macron's office and the White House said the substance of the plan would be worked out by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a meeting planned for Thursday.

European financial markets were tumbling on Monday at signs of increased confrontation, after having briefly edged higher on the glimmer of hope that a summit might offer a path out of Europe's biggest military crisis in decades.