Russia to decide on recognising Ukrainian regions on Monday, Putin says

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MOSCOW, Feb 21 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said Russia would decide whether to recognise the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine later on Monday, a step that would be certain to further inflame a tense standoff with the West and Kyiv.

The Kremlin leader made the remark at the end of a dramatic session of his Security Council that was broadcast on television after the heads of two self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine appealed to Putin to recognise their independence.

"A decision will be taken. Today," Putin said.

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The Moscow-backed regions have been thrust to the forefront of a mounting international crisis over a Russian military buildup that has fuelled fears that Moscow may be on the brink of invading Ukraine. The Kremlin denies such plans.

The rouble plumbed weeks-long lows during the meeting as Putin called on top officials including his spy chief, defence minister and two parliamentary speakers to speak from a podium about whether they supported the idea of recognition. read more

To kick off proceedings, Putin said he thought it was clear Ukraine would not implement the Minsk peace process aimed at ending the conflict between government forces and separatists in east Ukraine that has killed 15,000 people. read more

"It is clear to everyone that (Ukraine) is not going to do anything on this Minsk package of measures...," Putin said.

INTENSE PRESSURE

All 12 senior official backed the idea of recognising the mainly Russian-speaking regions, according to a tally by the RIA news agency, though two of them suggested briefly waiting to see if the situation might now improve with this new threat.

Recognition for the regions is likely to torpedo the Minsk peace accords, which all sides, including Russia, had previously said were the only possible route out of the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Such a step could also pave the way for Moscow to openly send in military forces to the regions, echoing its approach to Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia whose independence it recognised and where it has troops garrisoned.

The televised meeting of the powerful Security Council, which usually meets strictly behind closed doors, offered an extraordinary glimpse into the intense pressure at the top of the Russian elite.

At one point, Putin told spy chief Sergei Naryshkin to be more forthright, prompting the official to blurt out that he backed the idea of Russia absorbing the regions before correcting himself to say he supported recognition.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the situation was extremely tense in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics that lie in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev said he backed the idea of recognising the republics' dominion across the entirety of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, much of which is under Ukrainian government control.

The head of the Federal Security Service told Putin that the security situation in Donbass was deteriorating and that 70,000 people had been evacuated from them to Russia after separatists announced a mass evacuation on Friday.

Russia's lower and upper houses of parliament are due to meet on Tuesday and would be likely involved in formalising any move to recognise the regions.

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Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Andrey Ostroukh, Alexander Marrow, Oksana Kobzeva, Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones and Tomasz Janowski

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