Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree recognizing the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, escalating Western fears of an imminent invasion of Ukraine.

Putin made the announcement in an address broadcast on state television Monday evening in which he also questioned Ukraine’s statehood and described the country’s leadership as under the control of the West.

The Kremlin leader had earlier held a Security Council meeting to discuss the issue of whether the separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk should be recognized as independent states.

All of the participants, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, spoke in favour.

Pro-Russian separatist leaders in Luhansk and Donetsk had earlier asked Putin for recognition.

Luhansk and Donetsk, which are part broader Donbass region dominated by Russian-speakers, had declared independence from Ukraine in 2014 but no country had so far recognized them as sovereign states.

There are worries in Washington and European capitals that Moscow’s recognition will open the door for Russia to move in forces.

Fighting has flared in the Donbass between the Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces, with fears that it could become the flashpoint for a wider war and Russian invasion. Moscow has denied having any such plans.

Source: dpa/MIA