President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian authorities on Saturday to temporarily recognize civil registration documents issued in separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine, a decision strongly criticized by Ukraine's president. The decision will enable people from the conflict-hit region to travel, work or study in Russia.
According to Putin's order, published on the Kremlin website, Russia will temporarily recognize identity documents, diplomas, birth and marriage certificates and vehicle registration plates issued in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The legislation will be in place until a "political settlement of the situation" in these regions based on the Minsk peace accords, the Kremlin said.
Ukrainian authorities sharply criticized Putin's decision, saying Russia had violated the Minsk peace process. "For me, this is another proof of Russian occupation as well as Russian violation of international law," Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko told reporters in Munich, Germany.
"This step completely negates the Minsk process," said Oleksander Turchynov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, which is headed by Poroshenko.
Fighting has recently escalated in the conflict between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, refocusing global attention on a simmering conflict that has strained relations between Russia and the West.
The February 2015 Minsk peace agreement only locked the two sides into a stalemate that has been broken periodically by sharp resurgences of fighting that Kiev and the Kremlin accuse each other of instigating.
The foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine met on Saturday in Munich and agreed to use their influence to implement a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from today in eastern Ukraine with Russia's Sergei Lavrov calling it a "positive" development.
But the warring sides had already agreed last Wednesday that they would withdraw heavy weapons from the frontline by today in line with a tattered peace plan, and Lavrov warned that there had been no "major progress" in Munich.
Saturday's announcement comes after nearly 30 people lost their lives as violence flared again earlier this month in a conflict that has left more than 10,000 people dead since April 2014.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin confirmed the deal, warning that the ceasefire must turn into more than a "political slogan" in practical terms. "This has to be the real situation -- and if that's not the case, we will have to have fresh negotiations," he told Ukrainian reporters in Munich.
Several ceasefires have already faltered in a bid to end Europe's only armed conflict, thanks to regular flare-ups in fighting between the pro-Russian rebels -- whom Moscow has furiously denied giving financial and military support, despite Western allegations -- and Ukrainian troops. The most recent violence earlier this month saw some 30 soldiers and civilians killed in the flashpoint town of Avdiivka.
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