MOSCOW: Russia's lower house of parliament voted on Tuesday to ask President Vladimir Putin to recognise two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, the house speaker said.
The move by the State Duma, if approved, could further inflame a wider standoff over a Russian military build-up near Ukraine that has fuelled Western fears that Moscow could attack. Russia denies any invasion plans and has accused the West of hysteria.
Recognition of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics could kill off the Minsk peace process in east Ukraine, where a conflict between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has killed 15,000 people.
"Kyiv is not observing the Minsk agreements. Our citizens and compatriots who live in Donbass need our help and support," Vyacheslav Volodin, the State Duma speaker, wrote on social media.
Volodin, a member of the pro-Putin ruling United Russia party, said the appeal would be sent to the Kremlin immediately. It was not clear how long the Kremlin would take to review it.
Moscow casts the conflict in east Ukraine as a civil war, but Ukraine and the West say Russia helps the separatists with its own ground forces, something Moscow denies.
Russia has issued more than 700,000 passports to residents of eastern Ukraine since separatists seized territory there in 2014 shortly after Russia annexed Crimea, souring relations with Kyiv and the West.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the substance of the appeal, saying that no decision had been taken on it. But he added that the pro-Russian separatist region known as Donbass was a matter of great concern for Russians.
He said that Russia had repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to the Minsk peace process and that it still wanted it to be implemented.
Four-way east Ukraine peace talks between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany were held last week but ended without a breakthrough.
After the talks, Ukraine said it would not yield to pressure from Moscow to negotiate directly with the separatists, while Russia accused Kyiv of putting forward absurd proposals.