Russian President Vladimir Putin declared on Monday night that the eastern portion of Ukraine consists of "ancient Russian lands" and the country has "never had a tradition of genuine statehood."
He also accused the West of "trying to blackmail us again," using sanctions to "restrain the development of Russia."
Putin's speech came hours after he recognized the independence of two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine: the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic. He has also ordered troops to enter the areas as part of a "peacekeeping mission."
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A senior U.S. official told CNN that Putin's remarks were "meant to justify war" to Russian citizens and used "a number of false claims" to attack "the very idea of a sovereign and independent Ukraine."
Putin spoke during a televised meeting with several of his top officials. He also claimed that a "sabotage and reconnaissance group from the territory of Ukraine" clashed with Russian border officers and troops, and while Russia "has always tried to resolve all conflicts by peaceful means," Ukraine "conducted two punitive operations" in the separatist regions. He did not give any specific details.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that this was "disinformation" from Russia and Ukraine "did not attack Donetsk, Luhansk, did not send saboteurs or armored personnel carriers across the border, did not fire on the territory of the Russian Federation or the checkpoint at the border, did not commit sabotage, does not plan such actions."
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