KIEV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday declared the Russia-backed separatist republics in the east to be terrorist organizations, formally eliminating the possibility of holding peace talks with their representatives, as fighting escalated.
The move came after Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed the Ukrainian government to speak directly to the rebels in effort to end the fighting that has killed about 5,100 people in eastern Ukraine since April, according to U.N. figures.
The Kiev government has long called the separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics “terrorists,” but now they can be subject to the counter-terrorism law, said Oleksiy Melnyk, a defense analyst at the Razumkov Centre. That means the government has the right to restrict their movements within Ukraine, block their bank accounts, and most importantly stop them from participating in peace talks, he said.
Parliament is sending a message that Ukraine will negotiate only with Russia and not with its “puppets” in the separatist republics, Melnyk said.
The parliament also declared Russia to be an “aggressor state” and called on the United Nations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and parliaments in other countries to formally recognize it as such.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of backing the rebels with troops and weapons. Russia denies that, but Western military officials say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that claim.