REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/PoolRussian President Vladimir Putin meets with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow in 2012.Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of uniting the self-declared separatist republics in eastern Ukraine under the banner of Novorossiya, or New Russia, was put on hold indefinitely last week as Moscow moved to abide by the terms of February’s cease-fire deal.Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Russian state-owned newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that „we say that we want [these republics] to become part of Ukraine.”His comments echo those of Alexander Kofman, the defence minister of the separatist-run Donetsk People’s Republic, who told the Vechernyaya Makeevka newspaper: „The Novorossiya project is frozen until a new political elite emerges in all these regions that will be able to head the movement. We don’t have the right to impose our opinion on [the Ukrainian cities of] Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Odessa.”The move is most likely aimed to ensure the Russian side lives up to the commitments made in the second Minsk cease-fire agreement signed with Germany and France earlier this year. The deal called for local elections to be held in each of the separatist-held regions of Lugansk and Donetsk under Ukrainian law to decide on „local self-government” — a condition that could have been put under threat by the Novorossiya project.Ukrainen clamed Noua RUSIE,175Wiki CommonsAreas of Ukraine claimed as „New Russia.”Since the onset of fighting in eastern Ukraine following the collapse of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, suspicions of Russian involvement both militarily and politically have been repeatedly raised. NATO command has openly accused Moscow of sending troops and equipment (including tanks and heavy artillery) across the border to support the Russian-speaking rebels against the government in Kiev.Yet the end goal for many in the Kremlin has always been grander: the reformation of a large part of the former Russian empire through the unification of Russian-speaking people across the region.Putin said as much in his annual televised Q&A session last year, recalling that the breakaway territories in Ukraine had a long, shared history with Russia:I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya (New Russia) back in the tsarist days — Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa — were not part of Ukraine back then. These territories were given to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviet government. Why? Who knows. They were won by Potyomkin and Catherine the Great in a series of well-known wars. The centre of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained.At the time, effectively laying claim to regions that are formally part of Ukraine was seen as a quite extraordinary statement to make. But it is in keeping with the Kremlin’s broader strategic positioning over recent years.Moscow has spent the past decade trying to rebuild economic and political ties with its former Soviet neighbours under the auspices of the Eurasian Union. Yet international sanctions against Russia and the collapse in the oil price over the past year have put serious strains on its ambitions.In March, Putin attended a Eurasian Union conference with his Kazakh and Belorussian counterparts in Astana, the Kazakh capital. Tensions were higher than usual, with the government in Astana having to dip into its gold and foreign-currency reserves to defend its currency and rein in rampant inflation over recent months.In July last year, the Kazakh government passed a new law increasing the sentence for separatist activity in a possible hint that the Kazakh authorities were becoming concerned about a possible Russian landgrab, not dissimilar to what has been seen in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine. The government had previously refused to sign up to Moscow’s tit-for-tat sanctions imposed on Western goods imports, making clear that it viewed the Eurasian Union as a purely economic undertaking and not political.The apparent success of the Novorossiya project in Ukraine provided some welcome relief from these setbacks.Ukraine DebaltseveChannel 1Rebel forces raising the New Russia flag over Debaltseve.In August, Putin directly addressed the „Novorossiya militia” in Ukraine following the establishment of a so-called Union of People’s Republics between the rebel administrations in Lugansk and Donetsk. In effect, the Russian president appeared to be recognising the separatist republics as a unified political bloc — something Kiev’s western allies have long refused to do.Moreover, in February of this year the Russian TV station Channel 1 filmed the flag of Novorossiya flying over the key railway town of Debaltseve a day after rebels claimed to have captured the town after weeks of fierce fighting between the two sides.The decision by separatist forces to raise the Novorossiya flag rather than that of their own Donetsk People’s Republic flag is itself interesting and potentially highly symbolic. Raising the flag could be seen as playing into the Kremlin’s narrative of the crisis, which is that the government in Kiev is trying to undermine the right of ethnic Russians in the east of the country to self-determination — albeit within Moscow’s sphere of influence.That dream, however, has now been paused indefinitely. Russia’s domestic economy has suffered from a combination of international sanctions and the collapse in global oil prices and, it seems, there now seems to be little appetite left to further the standoff over Ukraine.How that will play with separatist leaders is an open question.Last year, separatist leader Oleg Tsarov ruled out the possibility that the rebel-held regions could find a mutually acceptable compromise with Kiev, saying „the reattachment of Novorossiya to Ukraine is not possible … it is not possible given the current government in Kiev.” He said those who had „experienced artillery bombardments, and who have lost comrades, who have lost relatives, whose homes have been destroyed,” would never accept the current administration.The two sides remain a long way apart, but without Moscow’s backing the People’s Republics would struggle to continue as independent entities. It seems the first step toward a dialogue on the future of Ukraine might just have been taken.SEE ALSO: Ukrainian rebels just handed a big victory to Russia ;NOW WATCH: 11 Facts That Show How Different Russia Is From The Rest Of The World

China to extend military reach, build lighthouses in disputed watersReuters By Megha Rajagopalan8 hours ago Reuters Videos China to build two lighthouses in the South China SeaChina to build two lighthouses in the South China SeaNews China to build two lighthouses in the South China SeaBy Megha Rajagopalan Related Stories

BEIJING (Reuters) – China outlined a strategy to boost its naval reach on Tuesday and announced plans for the construction of two lighthouses in disputed waters, developments likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing’s maritime ambitions.In a policy document issued by the State Council, the Communist-ruled country’s cabinet, China vowed to increase its „open seas protection”, switching from air defence to both offence and defence, and criticised neighbours who take „provocative actions” on its reefs and islands.China has been taking an increasingly assertive posture over recent years in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where it has engaged in extensive land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago.China claims most of the South China Sea and criticised Washington last week after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs. Both sides accused each other of stoking instability.A U.S. State Department spokesman declined to make a specific comment on the Chinese strategy paper, but said Washington urged Beijing „to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”Jeff Rathke reiterated the U.S. view that China’s reclamation work had contributed to rising tensions and said building up of underwater features did not confer a right to a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone.White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama considered the South China Sea security situation „critically important” to U.S. national security and the global economy and said Washington was committed to working with other Asia-Pacific states to protect the free flow of commerce there.Chinese navy sailors stand in formation as they attend …Chinese navy sailors stand in formation as they attend a send-off ceremony before departing for the  …While also declining to comment on the content of China’s policy paper, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said its publication was „a step in the right direction” in terms of transparency and „exactly the type of thing that we’ve been calling for” in that respect.China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China’s reclamation in the Spratlys was comparable with construction of homes and roads on the mainland.”From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference,” he told reporters.Some countries with „ulterior motives” had unfairly characterized China’s military presence and sensationalised the issue, he said. Surveillance in the region was increasingly common and China would continue to take „necessary measures” to respond.”Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs. A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China,” the strategy paper said in a thinly veiled reference to the United States.OFFENCE AND DEFENCESpokesperson of Chinese Ministry of National Defense …Spokesperson of Chinese Ministry of National Defense Senior Colonel Yang Yujun holds a copy of the a …It said China’s air force would shift its focus from territorial air defence to both offence and defence, and building airspace defences with stronger military capabilities.China also announced plans for the building of two lighthouses in the South China Sea on Tuesday and broadcast a groundbreaking ceremony on state television, defying calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity.Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the construction was to help maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and navigational security.Wu Shicun, president of the government-affiliated National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the lighthouses were among the first of planned civilian-use facilities in the region.”The reefs are located near an important commercial shipping route, so there will be continued development to maintain the security of those shipping lanes,” he told Reuters.The strategy paper also said the People’s Liberation Army’s nuclear force, known as the Second Artillery Corps, would strengthen its capabilities for deterrence and nuclear counterattack as well as medium- and long-range precision strikes.”China faces many complex maritime security threats and challenges and requires a navy that can carry out multifaceted missions and protect its sovereignty,” Wang Jin, a senior colonel, told reporters.The paper also cited „grave threats” to China’s cyber infrastructure, adding that China would hasten development of a cyber military force.Self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, called on all South China Sea claimants to shelve their disagreements to enable talks on sharing resources before a conflict breaks out.Japan meanwhile will join a major U.S.-Australian military exercise for the first time in a sign of growing security links between the three countries as tensions fester over China’s moves.All three nations have said they are concerned about freedom of movement through the South China Sea and air space.China’s Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday it had carried out military training for party cadres from border and coastal areas on border defence, among other topics.The trainees, who visited military combat units, developed a better understanding of the „national security situation”, said a statement on the ministry’s website.(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Michael Martina in Beijing, Matt Siegel in Sydney and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)