The leaders of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), on Monday asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize them as independent.
"I ask you to recognize the sovereignty and independence of the Lugansk People's Republic," separatist Leonid Pasechnik said in a video aired on Russian state television. Denis Pushilin, the rebel head of the DNR, made a similar appeal.
They also appealed to Putin to consider signing an agreement on defense cooperation between Russia and the rebel-held regions.
Should Russia take that step, it could pave the way for Moscow to openly send military forces into both regions, using the argument that it is intervening as an ally to protect them against Ukraine.
According to Russian state-backed RIA Novosti media outlet, Pushilin noted that the Ukrainian authorities decided on a forceful solution to the conflict. He stressed that Donbass highly appreciates Moscow's efforts in the negotiation process on the Minsk agreements, but the agreements do not prevent Kyiv from violating the established truce.
Pushilin added that the residents of Donbass feel "Russian in spirit, and their main goal is integration with Russia," as RIA reported.
Shortly after Pushilin's request, Putin said Moscow needs to consider recognizing breakaway regions of Ukraine.
Putin convened top officials Monday to consider recognizing the independence of Russia-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine. The meeting of the presidential Security Council came amid Western fears that Russia could invade Ukraine any moment, using skirmishes in eastern Ukraine as a pretext for an attack. Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of provocation amid intensifying shelling along the line of contact.
Russia has massed an estimated 150,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine - the biggest such buildup since the Cold War.
Moscow denies it has any plans to attack, but wants Western guarantees that NATO won't allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. It has also demanded the alliance halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe - demands flatly rejected by the West.