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NATO warns Moscow against recognizing breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Moscow on Tuesday against recognizing the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine.

“If that happens, that will be a blatant violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty once again, because there is no doubt that Donetsk and Luhansk are part of Ukraine within internationally recognised borders,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

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“So such a recognition would be a violation of international law and territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. Not only that, it will also be a violation of the Minsk agreements, so it will make it even harder to find a political solution based on the Minsk agreements,” he added.

Russia’s lower house of parliament had voted on Tuesday to ask President Vladimir Putin to recognize two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, the house speaker said.

The NATO chief welcomed signals from Russia in the past two days that it may be looking for a diplomatic solution but urged Moscow to demonstrate its will to act.

“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue. This gives grounds for cautious optimism. But so far we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

He said Russia often left military equipment behind after exercises, creating the potential for forces to regroup.

Earlier on Tuesday, Moscow said it was pulling back some of its forces near the Ukrainian border to their bases.

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