© Getty Images / Kay NietfeldRussian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a joint press conference with German Chancellor O. Scholz (SPD) after several hours of one-on-one talks in the Kremlin.
Fierce fighting that has killed thousands of people in eastern Ukraine, home to a large number of ethnic Russians, constitutes a genocide, President Vladimir Putin has claimed as parliamentarians push for the Kremlin to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Speaking on Tuesday at a press conference at the end of crunch talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Russian leader weighed in on the heightened tensions unfolding in the war-torn region.

"I can only add that what is happening in Donbass is genocide," he said. When asked by reporters about whether the push for the recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics was guided by public opinion and sympathy from Russians, and how such a move could impact a major peace plan, Putin said it was still possible to solve the problems in the region by applying the Minsk agreements.

"We have to do everything to resolve the problem of Donbass, but do it first and foremost based on the possibility of implementing the Minsk agreements," he explained, adding that he hoped Berlin and Paris would be able to encourage Kiev to fulfill their side of the deal.

Scholz, however, expressed concern at the prospect of Donetsk and Lugansk's recognition, claiming that such a move would violate the protocols and lead to a "political catastrophe."

Putin's remarks come shortly after lawmakers in his country's parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution, originally put forward by the Communist Party, calling for Putin to recognize the independence of the two regions. MPs said that the move would set the framework for ensuring guarantees and protecting the population, where ethnic Russians make up a large minority, from external threats.

Donetsk and Lugansk declared their autonomy from Kiev in 2014 following the events of the Maidan, when Ukraine's government was ousted as a result of violent street protests. However, neither Russia nor Ukraine currently recognize their independence.

Kiev claims that the Donbass separatists are Russian-backed, which the Kremlin denies, and has criticized Moscow's issuing of over half a million passports to citizens living there.

Putin previously insisted in December last year that what is going on in the two regions is "very reminiscent" of ethnic cleansing while speaking at a session of Russia's Council for Civil Society and Human Rights. According to Putin, "Russophobia" is the first step on the road to genocide. Over 13,000 people, including children and elderly civilians, have been killed in the conflict, according to UN estimates.