North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-Hui (L) formally recognized the Russian-backed separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, state media reported Thursday. File Photo by Bui Lam Khanh/EPA-EFE
SEOUL, July 14 (UPI) -- North Korea formally recognized two pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine, state media announced Thursday, becoming the third nation to do so.
Pyongyang's Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui sent letters to her counterparts in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk on Wednesday, Korean Central News Agency reported.
Choe wrote that North Korea "decided to recognize the independence" of the two regions in eastern Ukraine and "expressed the will to develop the state-to-state relations with those countries in the idea of independence, peace and friendship," KCNA said.
Fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian government forces sparked up in 2014 across the region, also known as Donbas, with separatists controlling parts of the two industrial centers since then.
In February, Russian President Vladimir recognized the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics -- also known as the DNR and LNR -- shortly ahead of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Last month, Syria became the second country to establish diplomatic relations with the two quasi-states.
On Wednesday, Kiev announced that it was severing diplomatic ties with North Korea over the move, calling it "an attempt by Pyongyang to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."
"Russia's appeal to the DPRK for support in legitimizing the forceful seizure of a part of the Ukrainian territory speaks more about Moscow's toxicity than Pyongyang's," Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement.
"Russia has no more allies in the world, except for countries that depend on it financially and politically, and the level of isolation of the Russian Federation will soon reach the level of isolation of the DPRK," Kuleba added.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
North Korea has publicly expressed its support for the Russian invasion, blaming NATO expansion and America's "hegemonic policy" for creating the crisis in Ukraine.
Russia, meanwhile, joined China in vetoing a U.S.-led U.N. Security Council resolution to impose additional sanctions on North Korea in May, highlighting a widening geopolitical divide.