North Korea has formally recognized the pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine’s east as independent countries, state media said on Thursday, July 14.

The move came as the North Korean government sent letters Wednesday to the so-called People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Lugansk, North Korean state media KCNA reported Thursday morning.

In the letters, Pyongyang said it “decided to recognise the independence of the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Lugansk and expressed the will to develop the state-to-state relations with those countries in the idea of independence, peace and friendship,” according to KCNA.

North Korea is only the third country to acknowledge the self-proclaimed republics.

Russia recognized the areas as independent shortly before it launched its invasion of pro-European neighbour Ukraine on February 24. Russian ally Syria made the diplomatic move last month.

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The Ukrainian foreign ministry in a statement Wednesday denounced North Korea’s decision to recognize territories Kyiv described as “temporarily occupied by Russia”.

“In response… Ukraine announces it is cutting diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” the statement said.

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