Russian Duma chair calls to recognize Donbas independence from Ukraine

The region in south-eastern Ukraine has seen increasing unrest since 2014.

Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery during the conflict in Donbas (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery during the conflict in Donbas
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, the lower chamber in the Federal Assembly of Russia, called for a discussion in the parliamentary body on recognizing the independence of the Donbas region and its separation from Ukraine, Maariv reported.

Donbas is a region in south-eastern Ukraine located next to the Russian border that has seen increasing unrest since the Ukrainian revolution in February 2014. Following a series of violent protests in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, elected president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from his position and the Ukrainian government overthrown.

It is alleged that Russian operatives have been working to gain control of the region since 2014 by attempting to sow further unrest under the guise of fighting for sovereignty for ethnic Russians in the region. While ethnic Russians are the largest minority in Donbas, its population is predominantly Ukrainian.

A Ukraine Donbass volunteer cleans his rifle, Summer 2017. (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)A Ukraine Donbass volunteer cleans his rifle, Summer 2017. (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

It is estimated that to date over 13,000 people have been killed as a result of the ongoing conflict. 

Russia's parliament will hold consultations next week on an idea to appeal to President Vladimir Putin to recognize two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states, the chamber's speaker said on Friday.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, made the announcement ahead of talks in Geneva later on Friday between Russia's top diplomat and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss soaring tensions over Ukraine.

A Russian troop build-up near Ukraine has stirred worries among Western countries that a war could break out between the former Soviet neighbors, whose ties have been fraught since the annexation of Crimea by Moscow and the start of a Russia-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Formally recognizing the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic in Donbas, eastern Ukraine, is seen as one potential step Putin could take if he fails to secure security guarantees he is seeking from the West.

Volodin, in a statement posted to his account on the Telegram messenger service, said a decision had been taken to further examine a draft parliamentary resolution submitted on Wednesday by 11 lawmakers -- including Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov -- which said that Russia needed to officially recognize the two regions as independent to safeguard their residents from external threats.

Volodin said that the ruling pro-Putin United Russia party was worried about the security of Russians living in the two breakaway areas. Moscow has handed out over 600,000 Russian passports to residents since 2014.

"The question submitted for our examination is a very serious and responsible one," said Volodin.

He said it would therefore be right for it to be discussed next week among the leaders of the main parties represented in parliament and then by the Duma's ruling council which decides on the chamber's timetable and workload.

"We see that (Ukrainian) President Zelenskiy is ignoring the Minsk (peace) agreements. NATO wants to occupy Ukraine. Both things can result in tragedy. We must not let this happen," said Volodin.

Zelenskiy has repeatedly said he is open to talks with Russia, while Western leaders have made clear there is no near-term prospect of Ukraine joining NATO.