MOSCOW – A separatist official in eastern Ukraine called on the Kiev government on Tuesday to “withdraw” its forces or “take measures,” according to Russian state-owned media, an ominous warning that could signal a further invasion of Ukraine.
Russia on Monday recognized the unilaterally proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, two Moscow-backed breakaway regions. Together, they occupy about a third of the Donetsk and Luhansk states, or regions, in eastern Ukraine, but claim entire regions.
The territorial claims include the major port city of Mariupol, under government control, on the Sea of Azov.
The text of Russia’s agreement to recognize the breakaway regions says it does so within its “present borders,” however some separatist and Russian officials immediately interpreted it as including territory under the control of the Kiev government. It provides for the joint imposition of borders and Russian military bases in the region.
This means that the separatists could launch military action against Ukraine, with the support of Russian forces, to try to seize the so-called areas, constituting a further Russian invasion.
Once the ink dried on the Kremlin recognition treaty, an official from the separatist LPR parliament, Dmitry Khoroshilov, asserted the region’s claim to the entire Luhansk region and called on Ukraine to withdraw its forces “voluntarily,” state-owned Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.
“Our territory is the entire Luhansk region. We call on Ukraine to withdraw its forces voluntarily, otherwise measures will be taken,” the agency quoted him as saying.
Fighting has continued in eastern Ukraine since 2014, killing nearly 14,000 people.
Earlier, Leonid Kalashnikov, head of the Russian Committee for the Affairs of Commonwealth of Independent States in the lower house of parliament, or State Duma, said the treaty “did not define” the recognized territories, but said he believed it covered the entire Luhansk region. Donetsk Oblast, which is claimed by the separatists.
The ambiguity reverberated from one official to the next, leaving some room for Russia to maneuver to interpret the deal at will.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the “nuances” would be settled at a later time. Andrei Klimov, deputy head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, told state television that Russia recognized the “actual border,” adding: “We will remind you that part of the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is under the control of Kiev.”
The Russian parliament was expected to ratify the recognition treaties on Tuesday.
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