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Kremlin mum on next moves after Putin article about Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has described Russians and Ukrainians as “brotherly” people and argued that Ukraine can only be stable and successful if it maintains friendly ties with Russia.

He also charged in an article published Monday that Ukraine has no intention of honoring a 2015 peace deal to end a conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east.

“I am convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia,” the article posted on the Kremlin’s website states. “Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties have formed for centuries and have been rooted in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories.”

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from comment Tuesday when asked if Russia could move to incorporate rebel-controlled areas of Ukraine’s industrial heartland, Donbas.

“I would leave that question unanswered,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter tug-of-war since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula following the ouster of a Russia-leaning president in Ukraine. Russia has supported the separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine during the conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people in seven years.

In his article published in both Russian and Ukrainian, Putin also accused the West of working methodically to rupture historic links between the two neighbors and to turn Ukraine into a key bulwark to contain Russia.

“The Western authors of the anti-Russia project set up the Ukrainian political system in such a way that presidents, members of parliament and ministers would change but the attitude of separation from and enmity with Russia would remain,” Putin wrote. “Today, the ‘right’ patriot of Ukraine is only the one who hates Russia. Moreover, the entire Ukrainian statehood, as we understand it, is proposed to be further built exclusively on this idea.”

Putin charged that Ukraine has failed to fulfill its obligations under a 2015 peace deal to grant broad autonomy to Donbas and would likely refrain from honoring the deal.

The 2015 agreement that was brokered by France and Germany envisaged that Ukraine could reclaim control of its border with Russia in the rebel-controlled regions after it grants them broad autonomy and they elect local leaders and legislatures. Those provisions were resented by many Ukrainians as a betrayal of national interests, and the peaceful settlement has stalled.

“I have become increasingly convinced that Kyiv simply doesn’t need Donbas,” Putin wrote in the article. “Because, firstly, the residents of these regions will never accept the rules they tried and are still trying to impose by force, blockade and threats.”

The Russian leader noted that Ukraine acquired broad territories in the country’s southeast and elsewhere during the period when it was part of the Soviet Union.

Asked to comment about Putin’s article, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday that he would analyze and comment on it in detail later. He said that despite Putin’s mention of “brotherly” populations, Russia’s action has been anything but brotherly.

“It looks more like Cain and Abel,” said Zelenskyy, who has pushed for months for a meeting with Putin.

Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press