Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree allowing the country to unilaterally recognize the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian separatists.
Putin denounced Ukraine during an emergency meeting of Russia's Security Council on Monday. He said Ukrainian government forces continue their attacks on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in violation of ceasefire agreements.
Putin noted that Russia will face more threats if Ukraine joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Putin revealed that he had been asked by separatists to consider recognizing the regions under their control as independent.
Putin said that he made the decision after receiving input from Cabinet ministers and other senior officials.
Before signing the decree, Putin gave a televised address to the public, saying Ukraine is trying to resolve issues in the region through military means. He said it was necessary to make a decision to swiftly approve independence and sovereignty, which have been long-awaited.
Some media outlets report that the move will allow Russia to justify troop deployments in the regions in the name of protecting them from Ukraine.
The latest action will likely prompt greater backlash from Western nations, as it signals that Russia will try to further increase its influence in the areas.