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Putin will soon recognize the rebel regions of Ukraine


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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon sign a decree recognizing two separate regions in eastern Ukraine as independent entities, the Kremlin said, escalating the crisis into a crisis the West fears could unleash war.

In a statement to the calls, the Kremlin said Putin announced his decision in phone calls with the leaders of Germany and France, who had expressed their disappointment.

Moscow’s move could torpedo a last-minute attempt to hold a summit with US President Joe Biden to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, and the ruble extended losses as Putin spoke out on the issue, dropping 3.3% on the day to 79.83 to the dollar.

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The European Union has warned of sanctions against the 27-nation bloc if it annexes Moscow or recognizes breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that are largely controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

“If there is annexation, there will be sanctions, and if there is recognition, I will put sanctions on the table and the ministers will decide,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said after a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Recognition of rebel-held areas could provide an excuse for Russian forces to cross the border into those areas.

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It would also narrow diplomatic options to avoid war, as it is an outright rejection of the seven-year ceasefire brokered by France and Germany, which has been touted as a framework for future negotiations on the broader crisis.

Separately, Moscow said that Ukrainian military saboteurs tried to enter Russian territory in armed vehicles, killing five people, a charge Kiev denied as “fake news”.

Both developments fit into a pattern repeatedly predicted by Western governments, which accuse Russia of preparing to concoct a pretext for invasion by blaming Kiev for the attacks and relying on pleas for help from separatist proxies.

Hours earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron had given hope for a diplomatic solution, saying that Putin and Biden had agreed in principle to meet.

But the Kremlin said there were no concrete plans to hold a summit. The White House said Biden agreed to meet “in principle” but only “if there is no invasion.”

In Washington, President Joe Biden recalled his top security advisers. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are seen entering the White House on President’s Day holiday.

Washington says Russia has amassed a force of 169,190,000 troops in the region, including rebels in breakaway regions, and could invade it within days.

Russia denies any plan to attack its neighbor but has threatened unspecified “military-technical” action unless it gets comprehensive security guarantees, including a pledge that Ukraine will never join NATO.

European financial markets tumbled on signs of growing confrontation, after rising briefly amid a glimmer of hope that the summit might provide a path out of Europe’s biggest military crisis in decades. Oil prices – Russia’s main export – rose, while Russian stocks and the ruble fell.

Reporting by Reuters offices. Writing by Kevin Levy, Peter Graf and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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