Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Ukraine must begin talks with the two breakaway regions in the country’s war-torn east to put an end to fierce fighting that has escalated in recent days.
Speaking following talks with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on Friday, Putin said that Kiev needs to sit down with representatives from the self-declared Donbass republics to secure a permanent ceasefire.
“The guarantee that peace can be restored comes with the implementation of the Minsk agreements,” the Russian president said. “All Kiev needs to do is sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the Donbass and agree on political, military, economic and humanitarian measures to end this conflict. The sooner this happens, the better.”
Just moments after Putin’s comments, leaders in the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk announced that they were instructing civilians to evacuate across the border with Russia, citing claims that Ukrainian government troops are set to launch an offensive.
According to Denis Pushilin, the head of the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic, forces loyal to Kiev “are now prepositioned for combat and ready to take Donbass by force.”
“That is why starting today, February 18, a mass evacuation of people to the Russian Federation has been organized,” he said, adding that vulnerable groups like women, children, and the elderly would be given priority.
Western nations have been claiming for months that Russia is preparing a military invasion of Ukraine, with US officials insisting that Moscow could be preparing a “false flag” operation to create a pretext for an attack. Moscow has consistently rejected the accusations.
Donetsk and Lugansk declared their autonomy from Kiev in 2014 after violent street protests felled the Eastern European nation’s elected government. Under the terms of the Minsk agreements, signed later that year, Kiev must hold talks with separatist leaders to secure a lasting peace settlement.
However, President Volodymyr Zelensky and top Ukrainian officials have since claimed that the agreement is unfavorable to Kiev and was signed under duress by their predecessors. Insisting that the rebels are Russian proxies, Zelensky has instead claimed he should hold talks with Putin alone, while Moscow has demanded his government work to implement the accords.
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