MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday recognized the independence of Moscow-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that will further fuel tensions with the West amid fears of Russian invasion.
Putin’s move follows days of heightened tensions in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, where Ukrainian forces are locked in a nearly eight-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists that has left more than 14,000 people dead.
Here is a look at the rebel-controlled territories in eastern Ukraine:
Separatist Rebellion in the East
When Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president was driven from office by mass protests in February 2014, Russia responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. It then threw its weight behind an insurgency in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine region known as Donbas.
In April 2014, Russia-backed rebels seized government buildings in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, proclaimed the creation of “people’s republics” and battled Ukrainian troops and volunteer battalions.
The following month, the separatist regions held a popular vote to declare independence and make a bid to become part of Russia. Moscow hasn’t accepted the motion, just used the regions as a tool to keep Ukraine in its orbit and prevent it from joining NATO.
Ukraine and the West accused Russia of backing the rebels with troops and weapons. Moscow denied that, saying any Russians who fought there were volunteers.
Amid ferocious battles involving tanks, heavy artillery and warplanes, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people aboard. An international probe concluded that the passenger jet was downed by a Russia-supplied missile from the rebel-controlled territory in Ukraine. Moscow still denied any involvement.
Peace Agreements for Eastern Ukraine
After a massive defeat of Ukrainian troops in August 2014, envoys from Kyiv, the rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe signed a truce in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in September 2014.
The document envisaged an OSCE-observed cease-fire, a pullback of all foreign fighters, an exchange of prisoners and hostages, an amnesty for the rebels and a promise that separatist regions could have a degree of self-rule.
The deal quickly col...