Russia's parliament will vote on Tuesday to decide whether to ask President Vladimir Putin to recognize two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, the speaker of the Duma lower house said.
Vyacheslav Volodin said lawmakers would consider two alternative resolutions on recognition of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, in the area known as the Donbas, where separatist forces have been fighting the Ukrainian army since 2014.
Under the first, parliament would appeal directly to Putin to recognize them as independent. The second, sponsored by deputies from the dominant United Russia party, would first seek the views of the Foreign Ministry and other government agencies.
The conflict is part of a wider crisis, with the United States warning that Russia may attack Ukraine at any time with a force of more than 100,000 troops massed near its borders. Russia denies any such plan and accuses the West of hysteria.
Recognition of the two regions would be a significant step that would effectively kill off the existing Minsk peace process for east Ukraine to which Russia says it is committed. For that reason, some analysts are skeptical that Putin would want to take such a step.
The alternative path of consulting the Foreign Ministry appeared designed to play for time and avoid bringing the issue to a head, at a moment when military tensions are high but Russia says there is still room for diplomacy.
The idea of asking Putin to recognize the breakaway territories was first floated by lawmakers on Jan. 19 but has taken weeks to get onto parliament's agenda, with the Kremlin declining to comment on whether it likes the idea.