Russian recognition for ‘Novorossiya’ regions Donetsk and Luhansk

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The Kremlin says its decision to recognize passports and other documents issued by separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine is a response to Ukraine’s blockade of rebel regions.

The weekend’s move by Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn sharp criticism from Ukraine, which called it a violation of a two-year-old peace deal. Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine since April 2014, a conflict that has killed more than 9,800 people

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday the decision was a humanitarian move to help struggling residents in the rebel regions, who have faced a transport blockade imposed by Ukrainian nationalist volunteer battalions.

Nationalist demonstrators supporting the blockade also clashed with police outside the presidential administration building in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

The United States says it is disturbed by Russia’s decision to recognize passports and other documents issued by rebel authorities in eastern Ukraine.

The recognition, in an order signed by President Vladimir Putin that was announced Saturday, “is alarming and contradicts the agreed-upon goals of the Minsk Agreement,” the US Embassy in Ukraine said Sunday on Twitter, referring to a two-year-old agreement on ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Russia was a signatory of the agreement.

President Donald Trump’s repeated statements on improving relations with Russia had led to speculation that Washington would soften its stance on Russia’s interference in Ukraine.