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Italy condemns Putin's recognition of Ukraine rebel regions

Putin's move is a "serious obstacle in the path towards a diplomatic solution of the Ukrainian crisis" said Italy's foreign minister Di Maio.

Italy has joined its European and Western partners in condemning Russia's recognition of the independence of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, amid fears it could provide a pretext for a Russian invasion.

During a televised speech to the nation on Monday night, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognising the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR) and the "Luhansk People's Republic" (LPR) as independent.

In a defiant, hour-long address, Putin said modern Ukraine had been "created" by Soviet Russia, referring to the country as "ancient Russian lands" and claiming that Russia had been "robbed" during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the BBC reports.

Hours after his televised announcement, Putin ordered the deployment of Russian troops, described by Moscow as peacekeepers, to the breakaway Ukrainian territories.

The self-declared people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, part of the Donbass region, are home to Russia-backed rebels who have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Reaction from Italy

"The decision of the Russian authorities to recognise the so-called separatist republics of Lughansk and Donetsk is to be condemned as in violation to the Minsk agreements" - said Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio in a statement - "The decision represents a serious obstacle in the path towards a diplomatic solution of the Ukrainian crisis."

Appealing to "all parties to return to the negotiating table", Di Maio said: "Italy continues to uphold the integrity and full sovereignty of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders."

In a statement on Tuesday, Italian premier Mario Draghi described Russia's recognition of the separatist regions as "an unacceptable violation of the democratic sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

Italy's undersecretary for European affairs, Enzo Amendola, said in a tweet on Monday night: "Putin wants to rewrite history and impose his ambitions on the rule of law", and therefore the "condemnation must be firm", because "we cannot accept spheres of influence under the threat of weapons."

Since the start of the crisis, Rome has worked to find a diplomatic solution, defending the sovereignty of Kyiv while insisting that dialogue with Moscow should always remain open.

In recent days Italy had announced plans for the possibility of premier Mario Draghi flying to Moscow for talks with Putin.

On 12 February Di Maio issued a statement urging all Italians in Ukraine to return home, a call he repeated on Monday, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

"Our embassy in Kyiv is urging all Italians in Ukraine to leave the country", said Di Maio, who stressed that the embassy "remains open and fully operational", adding: "We believe in diplomacy and we want to give a sign of closeness to the Ukrainian people."

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