In what was described by one journalist as a “throwaway” comment during a joint news conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged that a “genocide” was being committed against ethnic Russians in the Donbas region in the southeastern region of Ukraine.

“In our view what is now happening in Donbas is genocide,” Putin said.

This is not the first time Putin has made such an allegation. In December, Putin also claimed that the conflict in the Donbas “looks like genocide.”

“We see and know what is happening in Donbas,” Putin said in December, referring to the conflict zone. “It certainly looks like genocide.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejected the remarks, saying Russia was known for escalating its rhetoric and misinformation, ‘so I think we have to take their own efforts to communicate to their public with a grain of salt,’” the BBC reported at the time.

Putin’s latest allegations of genocide were made without any evidence, and followed talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

In the Donbas region, rebel forces backed by the Kremlin have been fighting a war with the Ukrainian military since 2014.

“Russia in 2014 justified its military intervention in Ukraine by claiming ethnic Russians were being threatened, assertions the U.S. fervently rejected,” Business Insider reported.

“What’s happening there is not based on actual concern for Russian nationals or Russian speakers inside of Ukraine, but is based on Russia seeking, through force, to exert influence on a neighboring country. That is not how international law is supposed to operate,” President Barack Obama said of the situation in Ukraine at the time. 

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea following an invasion, and critics are concerned that the same could occur in 2022. On Tuesday, Russia’s parliament backed plans to recognize the “breakaway” regions of the Donbas region — Donetsk and Luhansk — as independent states, which could be a catalyst for another Russian annexation. 

“Today’s Duma vote on the ‘LPR/DPR’ is yet another odious attempt to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and a clear violation of the Minsk agreements, which commit signatories to reintegrate these regions,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv responded. “We #StandwithUkraine.”

During their meeting on Tuesday, Putin and Scholz clashed over whether there was a precedent for war in Europe. Putin claimed that the 1990s conflict in the former Yugoslavia was carried out by NATO without the approval of the United Nations Security Council. However, Scholz said that this was not a relevant comparison, as there was a real concern that genocide could occur. 

Later, Scholz told journalists that Putin’s use of the word “genocide” in the context of the Donbas region was wrong.

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