Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Friday that the situation in eastern Ukraine is “deteriorating” as Russian-backed separatists begin to evacuate civilians out of disputed territories.
Putin called for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to negotiate with the separatists in the Donbas, where Russian-backed fighters have been waging a war to break away from Ukraine since 2014. The separatists announced Friday a mass evacuation of civilians into Russia due to concerns of an impending attack by Ukrainian forces.
#Breaking pro-separatist and Russian news agencies are circulating the news that they foiled an attempt by Ukraine to blow a chlorine gas tank within separatist territory
They released this alleged helmet cam footage from
(highly dubious) pic.twitter.com/8e3PFmEAE2
— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) February 18, 2022
“All that Kyiv needs to do is sit at the negotiating table with representatives of the Donbas and agree on political, military and economic measures to end the conflict,” Putin said at a press conference with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, according to the Moscow Times. “Unfortunately, right now we see a deterioration of the situation in the Donbas.” (RELATED: US Official: Ukraine Crisis ‘Is The Most Significant Military Mobilization In Europe Since The Second World War’)
Pro-Russia forces broke off from Ukraine in 2014 to form the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic when Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine. Putin has repeatedly accused Ukraine in the years since of threatening its Russian ethnic minority in the Donbas region, including earlier this week claiming there is a “genocide” against Russians in Ukraine, a claim not supported by any international human rights bodies.
“In general in Ukraine there is a massive violation of human rights. On a legislative level, discrimination towards Russian speakers is being consolidated,” the Russian leader said Friday.
Video emerged from Russian sources Friday of an alleged attack by Ukraine against a chlorine gas facility in the Donbas, which Russia and the separatist groups claim to have defeated. The United States warned last week that Russia could stage a “false flag” attack framing Ukraine to use as a pretext for war.
Russia claimed earlier this week to have begun moving troops away from the Ukrainian front line, but the U.S. and NATO expressed skepticism. The U.S. said it believes Russian troop levels have increased, from around 100,000 at the end of January to north of 170,000 now.