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PM says Putin ‘breaking law’ by declaring separatist areas of Ukraine independent

PM says Putin ‘breaking law’ by declaring separatist areas of Ukraine independent
Latest Russian move ‘dark sign’, say PM

Russian president Vladimir Putin is “plainly” breaking international law by recognising two breakaway pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine as independent entities, Boris Johnson has said.

Russian TV showed Mr Putin signing a decree recognising two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent – upping the ante in a crisis the West fears could unleash war in Europe.

The British prime minister said Mr Putin’s latest move in was an “ill omen” and a “dark sign” that things are moving in the wrong direction, as the UK warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.

The UK government will announce fresh sanctions against Russia on Tuesday in response to Russia’s decision to recognise separatist regions.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said she would be setting out the measures “in response to their breach of international law” – saying Mr Putin’s move would not go “unpunished”.

The British sanctions will be not be the full package of sanctions prepared in recent weeks, The Independent understands, with further retaliatory economic measures expected if Russia invades Ukraine.

“This is plainly in breach of international law, it’s a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine,” said Mr Johnson at a Downing Street press conference.

The PM said Russia had broken the 2014 Minsk agreements forged over Ukraine, adding: “I think it’s a very ill omen and a very dark sign … it’s yet another indication that things are moving in the wrong direction.”

Mr Putin railed against Ukraine in a televised address on Monday – claiming that that neo-Nazis were on the rise, oligarchic clans were rife and that the ex-Soviet country was a US colony with a “puppet regime”.

The Russian president signed the decree live on television after an emotional address in which he referred to eastern Ukraine as “ancient Russian lands” and said it was “managed by foreign powers”.

Mr Putin earlier announced his decision in phone calls to the leaders of Germany and France, who voiced disappointment, according to the Kremlin.

The shock move looks set to torpedo hope of a last-minute bid for a summit with US president Joe Biden to prevent a Russian invasion which had been mooted for the coming days.

Asked if he believed that Mr Putin had made his mind up to invade, Mr Johnson: “I don’t know what is in [Mr Putin’s] mind. I think there’s still a chance he could row back from this – and we’ve got to pray that’s the case.”

The prime minister – who said he would speak to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky to offer him the support of the UK – also acknowledged: “It is hard to see how this situation improves.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said Mr Putin’s move showed “flagrant disregard” for international agreements, and demonstrates Russia’s “decision to choose a path of confrontation”.

Ms Truss said Russia’s actions could not be allowed to go “unpunished”, and is expected to set out fresh sanctions on Tuesday in response to the Russian president’s decision.

The White House said Mr Biden will issue an executive order that will prohibit “new investment, trade, and financing” in the two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine that Mr Putin has recognised as independent entities.

In a joint statement, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel also vowed to slap sanctions on those involved in recognising Ukraine’s breakaway regions as independent, describing Mr Putin’s move as an “illegal act”

“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 on Monday.

Meanwhile, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Mr Putin’s decision “erodes efforts towards a resolution of the conflict, and violates the Minsk Agreements, to which Russia is a party” – referring to the 2014 accords which sought to end conflict in the Donbas region.

Earlier on Monday, defence secretary Ben Wallace said the UK was ready to launch cyber-attacks on Russia if Moscow targets Britain’s computer networks after an invasion.

Mr Wallace referred to Britain’s “offensive cyber capability”, adding: “I’m a soldier – I was always taught the best part of defence is offence,” he told the Commons after Conservative MP him to “give as good as we get back to Russia” if necessary.

‘Ukraine was created by Russia’: says Putin while addressing the nation

Ukrainian government troops in front-line trenches in Ukraine’s east said on Monday that heavy weapons fire from Russian-backed separatists had intensified to provoke all-out conflict amid fears of Russia seeking a pretext for a full-scale invasion.

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba took to Twitter to deny that the country had attacked Donetsk or Luhansk or had any plans to do so. “Russia, stop your fake-producing factory now,” he tweeted.

The rebel leaders in the Donbas region earlier on Monday released statements urging Mr Putin to recognise them as independent states and sign friendship treaties envisaging military aid to protect them from what they claim is an ongoing Ukrainian military offensive.

Russia still denies any plan to attack its neighbour, but it has threatened unspecified “military-technical” action unless it receives sweeping security guarantees – including a promise that Ukraine will never join Nato.