Freeing separatist Ukraine regions on cards: Russian President Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that he no longer felt that a 2015 peace plan agreed would be able to resolve Ukraine’s separatist conflict.

“We understand that there are no prospects” for the implementation of the 2015 Minsk peace accords, agreed in the capital of Belarus to end fighting between Ukraine’s army and pro-Moscow rebels in the east of the country, Putin told his security council.

Meanwhile, the United States has warned the United Nations it has information that Russia has lists of people from Ukraine “to be killed or sent to camps” in the event of an invasion, as per a letter sent to the UN rights chief, reported by news agency AFP.

Putin’s statement follows televised statements by separatist leaders, who pleaded with Putin to recognise them as independent states and sign friendship treaties envisaging military aid to protect them from what they described as the ongoing Ukrainian military offensive. Russia’s lower house made the same plea last week.

Ukrainian authorities deny launching an offensive and accusing Russia of provocation amid intensifying shelling along the line of contact.

The Kremlin initially signaled its reluctance to make the eastern move that would effectively shatter a 2015 peace deal for Ukraine that marked a major diplomatic coup for Moscow, requiring Ukrainian authorities to offer a broad self-rule to the rebel regions.

The US and Russian presidents tentatively agreed to meet in a last-ditch effort to stave off a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, even as sustained shelling continued on Monday in a conflict in eastern Ukraine that Western powers fear could provide the spark for a broader war .

If Russia invades, as the US warns Moscow has already decided to do, the meeting will be off. Still the prospect of a face-to-face summit resuscitated hopes that diplomacy could prevent a devastating conflict, which would result in massive consequence and huge economic damage in Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy.

Russia has massed an estimated 150,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine — the biggest such buildup since the Cold War. And Western officials have warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is now merely looking for a pretext to invade the country, a western-looking democracy that has defied Moscow’s attempts to pull it back into its.

Moscow denies it has any plans to attack, but wants Western guarantees that NATO won’t allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. It has also demanded the alliance halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe —demands flatly rejected by the West.

With the prospect of war looming, French President Emmanuel Macron scrambled to broker a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Putin.

Macron’s office said both leaders had “accepted the principle of such a,” to be followed by a broader meeting that would include other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe.” The language from Moscow and Washington was more speculative, but neither side denied a meeting is under discussion.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration has always been ready to talk to avert a war —but was also prepared to respond to any attack.

“So when President Macron asked President Biden yesterday if he was prepared in principle to meet with President Putin, if Russia did not invade, of course President Biden said yes,” he told NBC’s Today show on Monday. “But every indication we see on the ground right now in terms of the disposition of Russian forces is that they are, in fact, getting prepared for a major attack on Ukraine.” Kremlin, spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that Putin and Biden could meet if they consider it “feasible,” but emphasized that “it’s premature to talk about specific plans for a summit.” Macron’s office said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov is set to lay the groundwork for the potential summit when they meet Thursday. The French leader has been trying to play go-between to avert a new war in Europe, and his announcement a flurry of calls followed by Macron to Putin, Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Even as the diplomacy pressed ahead, there were signs it might not head off a broader conflict. In on particularly dire signal, Russia and its ally Belarus announced Sunday that they were extending massive war games on Belarus’ territory, which could offer a staging ground for an attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, located just 75 kilometers south of the border.

Russian forces killed five “saboteurs” and destroyed two Ukrainian armored personnel carriers that crossed into Russian territory in the Rostov region early Monday, state-run Tass news service reported, citing a statement from the Southern Military District.

The alleged strike comes as tensions have escalated between the Ukrainian army and separatists in two breakaway republics in the country’s east, with both sides accusing the other of shelling in recent days.

Unlike the firing along the contact line between Ukraine and the separatists, Russia alleged this incident took place over the international border. Ukraine did not comment on the strike, but officials there said they aren’t offensive operations.

Starting Thursday, shelling also spiked along the tense line of contact that separates Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. Over 14,000 people have been killed since conflict erupted there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

The French and Russian leaders agreed to pursue dialogue at the level of foreign ministers, he said on a conference call with reporters.

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