Impossible to tell when Ukraine fight will end: Putin
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has called for a discussion on the 'statehood' of eastern Ukraine, Russian media has reported.
Speaking to the national TV network Channel 1, Mr Putin urged talks on a political solution to the crisis that are aimed at "safeguarding the legitimate interests of those people who live there".
He has previously called for talks between the central government and the separatist rebels in the east, which Ukrainian forces have been fighting since April.
The Russian President's use of the word 'statehood' comes after he recently referred to regions in eastern Ukraine as "Novorossiya" (New Russia).
However, his spokesman said this did not mean Moscow now endorsed rebel calls for independence for territory they have seized.
Mr Putin also warned it is "impossible to tell" when the protracted conflict will end.
He was quoted by the Russian Itar Tass agency as saying the end of the crisis "largely depends on the political will of current Ukrainian authorities."
"It must be borne in mind that Russia cannot stand aside when people are being shot at almost at point blank," he added.
On Saturday, European leaders considering fresh sanctions against Moscow said Russia was practically in a "state of war" against Europe.
The threat of deeper sanctions was dismissed by Mr Putin, who accused the the EU of "backing a coup d'etat" in Ukraine.
Kiev and the West say Russia has assisted rebels throughout the conflict, a claim Moscow has consistently denied.
Fighting escalated after Russia formally annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March, and has claimed the lives of over 2,600 people to date.
It comes as Ukrainian volunteer troops claimed dozens of men were killed when pro-Russian forces reneged on an agreed window of time to allow surrendering troops to withdraw from a town seized by rebels.
Troops had attempted to leave the town of Ilovaisk, which has been encircled by rebels for more than ten days, on Saturday.
Ukrainian troops who escaped the encirclement claimed pro-Russian separatists fired on them "from all sides", one soldier told the Associated Press, killing dozens.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian troops and local residents were reinforcing the port of Mariupol on Sunday, the next big city in the path of pro-Russian fighters who pushed back government forces along the Azov Sea this past week in an offensive on a new front.