Russian lawmakers to ratify treaties claiming right to military bases in east Ukraine

MOSCOW, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Russia's parliament was expected on Tuesday to ratify treaties with two separatist Ukrainian regions, a step that could pave the way to Moscow building military bases there, adopting a joint defence posture and tightening economic integration.

President Vladimir Putin recognised the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic as independent statelets on Monday, defying Western warnings that such a step would be illegal and kill peace negotiations.

With the United States and its European allies now poised to announce harsh new sanctions, Russia's lower house of parliament began meeting to discuss the two 17-page draft friendship treaties with the breakaway republics and vote on them.

The treaties were submitted to parliament by Putin for ratification on Monday night.

Each party gives the other "the right for its armed forces to build, use and improve military infrastructure and military bases on its territory," they say.

Once the documents are ratified, Russia, which has massed troops near Ukraine fuelling fears of a looming war, could overtly send military forces into the regions.

An explanatory note attached to the documents says the documents create a "legal basis" for the arrival of Russian military units to the people's republics that it said were needed for "peacekeeping" activities.

In the event of a threat to their respective "sovereignty", the treaty's parties will immediately hold consultations "with the aim of ensuring joint defence, keeping the peace and mutual security," the documents say.

"In the course of these consultations, they will determine the necessity, type and scale of help that one party will provide to the other party to eliminate a threat that has arisen," it says.

The treaties also say Russia and the breakaway statelets will work to integrate their economies. Both of them are former industrial areas in need of massive support to rebuild after eight years of war with Ukrainian government forces.

The 10-year treaties are automatically renewable for further five-year periods unless one of the parties gives notice to withdraw, the draft documents said.

In Moscow, many residents said they supported the move, which they interpreted through the lens of Russia's wider standoff with the West over security demands.

"We have to defend the country and drive American, pro-Western troops away from our borders, who have been trying to conquer Russia since the last century and probably throughout the centuries," said one of them, who identified himself as Nikolay.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova declined to comment when asked what exact borders the two self-proclaimed republics would have, one of an array of questions that remains unclear.

"Let's let our lawmakers play their part today and the legal process take place," she said on Russian state radio.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Maria Kiselyova, Anton Kolodyazhnyy; editing by Mark Trevelyan

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