NEW YORK, Feb 22 — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Russia’s move to recognise two eastern Ukrainian separatist regions as independent yesterday as a “violation” of Kyiv’s sovereignty.

“The Secretary-General is greatly concerned by the decision by the Russian Federation related to the status of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

“The Secretary-General considers the decision of the Russian Federation to be a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The United Nations chief hastily scrapped his schedule earlier yesterday and raced back to headquarters in New York citing the “deteriorating situation regarding Ukraine,” Dujarric said.

His decision to return to New York came shortly after Russia announced that President Vladimir Putin will recognise Ukraine’s rebelling territories as independent.

As a result, Guterres canceled a planned trip for Monday to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

After participating late last week in the annual international security meeting in Munich, Guterres was in Portugal yesterday when he decided an hour before leaving for the DR Congo to cancel his trip.

Putin’s decision could ignite a potentially devastating conflict with Kyiv’s Western-backed government. The recognition will effectively end an already shaky peace plan in the separatist conflict in Ukraine’s east.

Moments after the Guterres statement went out, Putin ordered troops to move into the rebel regions, allegedly to protect hundreds of thousands of residents who have been granted Russian passports.

Putin’s moves overshadowed last-ditch diplomatic attempts to ease weeks of tensions over fears Russia has been planning an all-out invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

Earlier, the United Nations urged all parties to refrain from taking “unilateral action” that would undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty.

“All issues must be addressed through diplomacy,” Dujarric said, underlining the global body’s call for “maximum restraint” to avoid escalating tensions.

Dujarric also said that the UN had authorised the temporary relocation of some non-essential staff and family members of UN personnel deployed in Ukraine.

He said the UN currently has 1,510 staff in Ukraine, 149 of whom are foreign nationals and 1,361 Ukrainian nationals. — AFP