NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
The State Department on Wednesday warned against any move by the Kremlin to sever its commitment to the Minsk agreements as it looks to recognize two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as “independent.”
The Russian State Duma – the lower chamber in the Russian parliament – voted Tuesday to send President Vladimir Putin an appeal to recognize the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
NATO CHIEF CONTRADICTS RUSSIA WITHDRAWAL CLAIMS, SAYS NO PROOF OF PULLING BACK
Located in the Donbas region, in Ukraine’s most eastern front, the breakaway republics have been engaged in armed conflict with the Ukrainian army since 2014.
Russian-backed separatists and Ukraine signed a ceasefire agreement in 2014.
An additional agreement signed in 2015 in Minsk by Russia, Ukraine, leaders from the separatist groups and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reinforced the ceasefire and called for a series of steps to end the conflict.
Ukraine has long argued that Russia has not upheld its end of the bargain by withdrawing all its troops from the region – though Moscow denies there are any forces to withdraw, according to reporting by Reuters.
The State Department has maintained that Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and continues to control armed forces in Donbas.
“To be clear: Kremlin approval of this appeal would amount to the Russian government’s wholesale rejection of its commitments under the Minsk agreements,” the State Department said Wednesday. “Enactment of this resolution would further undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, constitute a gross violation of international law, call into further question Russia’s stated commitment to continue to engage in diplomacy to achieve a peaceful resolution of this crisis.”
The move by the Russian government comes as tensions in Eastern Europe remain heightened after months of military movement and the buildup of roughly 150,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s border.
Russia has additionally deployed 30,000 troops to its allied neighbor Belarus.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE: NATO LEADER SAYS ‘WE HAVE NOT SEEN ANY WITHDRAWAL OF RUSSIAN FORCES’: LIVE UPDATES
Despite its aggressive military buildup, the Kremlin has maintained it has no intention of invading Ukraine and on Tuesday it claimed it will be partially drawing down its military forces.
NATO and U.S. officials said they were cautiously optimistic at the news but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that the alliance had seen no evidence Russia has taken steps to withdraw troops.
Ukrainian officials last week launched the risk reduction mechanism under the Vienna Document and called on Putin to provide detailed information regarding its military activities along Ukraine’s borders.
Russia has yet to respond to the demands from Ukraine, nor has it returned NATO’s written responses issued in answer to Russia’s expressed security concerns.
“We keep demanding transparency from Russia which refused to attend yesterday’s meeting under the Vienna Document,” Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, said Wednesday.
“We once again call on Russia to address legitimate concerns of participating states and use OSCE tools to defuse tensions caused by its military activities near Ukraine’s border. Statements on withdrawal aren’t sufficient.”
NATO forces have been deployed to nations surrounding Ukraine including Romania and Poland. Officials have repeatedly said troops will not be deployed to Ukraine as it is not a NATO member.