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Russian MPs call for recognition of breakaway Ukraine 'republics'

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 and the European Union told Moscow not to follow through.

The move by the State Duma, if approved, could further inflame a wider stand-off over a Russian military build-up near Ukraine that has fuelled Western fears that Moscow could attack. Russia denies any invasion plans.

Recognition of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics could kill the Minsk peace process in eastern Ukraine, where a conflict in the region known as Donbass between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has cost 15,000 lives.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the State Duma speaker and a member of the pro-Putin ruling United Russia party, wrote on social media:

"Kyiv is not observing the Minsk agreements. Our citizens and compatriots who live in Donbass need our help and support."

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters:

"If the decision on recognition is taken, Russia will de facto and de jure withdraw from the Minsk agreements with all the attendant consequences."

At a news conference in Moscow, President Putin declined to be drawn on how he planned to respond. He said Russians were sympathetic to the residents of the Donbass region, but he wanted the regions' problems to be resolved through the Minsk accords.

Using stark language that Germany's visiting Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed as "wrong", the Kremlin leader said Russia considered the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Donbass region as "genocide".

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.

The European Union's top diplomat warned Moscow against recognising the regions, saying it would be a clear violation of the Minsk agreements and Brussels supported Ukraine's independence and sovereignty.