The leader of a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine has announced plans to create a new state called Little Russia, with its capital in rebel-held Donetsk.
The controversial move has brought fears that the peace process – which has only partially stopped the fighting – could be further undermined.
The new state’s name Malorossiya was the term used to describe large parts of the country when they were part of the Russian empire and is offensive to Ukrainians.
Announcing the move, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said what he called Ukraine’s “junta regime” was destroying the country, causing the people to suffer.
“We need to help them, but not through war, unless we are pushed into it by Kyiv. Together we must build a new country,” Alexander Zakharchenko told a news conference.
The declaration brought an angry response from the Ukrainian president, visiting the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
Petro Poroshenko vowed in return that Ukraine would restore control over Donbass and Crimea – and pointed the finger at Moscow implying it was pulling rebel leaders’ strings.
“You should understand that (Alexander) Zakharchenko and (Igor) Plotnitsky, they are not political figures, they are puppets – muppet show – which translates the messages they receive from Russia,” he said, speaking in English.
Russia denies accusations that it has delivered arms and provided troops to back rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The declaration casts a shadow over the faltering Minsk agreement. France and Germany, closely involved in the peace process, condemned the idea.