Putin rejected claims that Russian special forces are causingunrest in eastern Ukraine

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MOSCOW (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected claims that Russian special forces are fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, but recognized for the first time that the troops in unmarked uniforms who had overtaken Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula before its annexation by Moscow were Russian soldiers.

Putin expressed hope for a political and diplomatic solution of the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, saying he hopes that he won't have to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine, which has been engulfed by violent protests against the new authorities in Kiev. He poured scorn at the West, accusing it of trying to weaken and isolate Russia and made it starkly clear that he doesn't fear further Western sanctions.

Speaking in a televised call-in show with the nation, Putin harshly criticized the West for trying to pull Ukraine into its orbit and said that people in eastern Ukraine have risen against the authorities in Kiev, who ignored their rights and legitimate demands.

A wave of protests, which Ukraine and the West said was organized by Russia and involved Russian special forces, have swept eastern Ukraine over the past weeks, with gunmen seizing government offices and police stations in at least 10 cities.

"It's all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine," Putin said.

At the same time, he recognized for the first time that soldiers in unmarked uniforms - dubbed "little green men" - who swept Ukraine's Black Sea region of Crimea laying the ground for its annexation by Moscow last month were Russian troops.

Putin, who previously said the troops were local self-defense forces, said the Russian soldiers' presence was necessary to protect the local population from armed radicals and to ensure the holding of a referendum, in which an overwhelming majority of its residents voted for seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.

"Our servicemen stood behind the back of Crimea's self-defense forces," Putin said. "They acted politely, but resolutely and professionally. There was no other way to hold the referendum in an open, honest and honorable way and allow the people to express their opinion."

He said part of the motives behind the annexation of Crimea was the need to counter what he said was NATO's intention to make Ukraine a member and sharply limit Russia's presence in the Black Sea region.

Putin insisted that protests in the east of Ukraine only involve locals. He denounced the Ukrainian authorities' decision to use the military to uproot the protests in the east as a "grave crime," adding that he told his Western counterparts urging him to help disarm protesters in the east that the Ukrainian government should first pull the army back.

"They are sending tanks, armored personnel carriers and cannons there!" he said. "Have they gone nuts?"

He expressed hope for the success of Thursday's talks in Geneva that brings together the United States, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine for the first time since the Ukrainian crisis erupted.

"I think the start of today's talks is very important, as it's very important now to think together about how to overcome this situation and offer a real dialogue to the people," Putin said.

Russia has demanded that the new government in Kiev, which replaced the ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych who fled to Russia following protests over his decision to spike a pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia, move to transform the country into a loose federation. Ukraine has rejected the demand, but promised to give the regions more powers.

Putin repeated his argument that regions in eastern Ukraine historically had been part of the Russian empire and called Novorossiya before they were handed over to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.

"God knows why," he said.

But he also seemed to keep the door open for Russia to recognize Ukraine's presidential election set for May 25, softening his previous demand that it must be postponed until the fall and preceded by a referendum on broader powers for the regions. He added that the primary goal is to ensure that people in the east should be offered clear guarantees of the protection of their rights.

Putin maintained a tough stance on the gas price to Ukraine, which Russia has hiked 80 percent since Yanukovych's ouster and warned that Moscow will start requesting advance payments for gas shipped to Ukraine in one month if it fails to reach agreement on settling its debts.

Facing questions about more Western penalties to follow the first rounds of sanctions over the annexation of Crimea, Putin sought to assuage fears they could cripple Russia's vital energy sector. He said that the EU will be unable to do without Russian natural gas supplies, and it would be hard for the U.S. to hurt Russia by encouraging a drop in oil prices.

"They badly want to bite us, but their opportunities are limited," Putin said.

He also took a video question from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, whom Russia granted asylum last year. Asked by Snowden about Russia's surveillance programs, Putin said that Russian special services also tap on communications in their fight against terrorism, but don't do it on such a massive scale as the U.S.

While offering scathing criticism of the West, Putin said that Russia will further develop ties with China, a natural ally which he said is set to become the world's No. 1 economic power.

Putin also urged Ukraine to reopen trade and transportation routes into Moldova's separatist province of Trans-Dniester. Russia and the Trans-Dniester authorities say that the Ukrainians have blocked transport routes to the region. Moldova has frozen ties with Trans-Dniester since the 1992 war.

Putin has dodged a question about whether Moscow could accept Trans-Dniester's request for the recognition of its independence.

Trans-Dniester, located in eastern part of Moldova on border with Ukraine, has run its own affairs without international recognition since the 1992 war and hosted Russian troops. There have been fears in Ukraine that Russia could use region as a bridgehead for invading its southern region.

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Putin rejected claims that Russian special forces are causingunrest in eastern Ukraine
Armed pro-Russian activists stand outside the Ukrainian regional administration building which they seized in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. A pro-Russian mob stormed a Ukrainian police station in Horlivka, another city near the Russian border. Later in the day, armed men in masks also seized control of a military airport outside the city of Slovyansk, also in the Donetsk region bordering Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
In this photo taken on Saturday, April 12, 2014, Armed pro-Russian activists stand outside the police station in the eastern Ukraine town of Kramatorsk. The interior minister overnight reported an attack on a police in the city of Kramatorsk, close to the city of Slovyansk. A video from local news web-site Kramatorsk.info showed a group of camouflaged men armed with automatic weapons storming the building. The news web-site also reported that supporters of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic have occupied the administration building, built a barricade with tires around it and put a Russian flag nearby. (AP Photo/Maxim Dondyuk, Russian Reporter magazine) MAGAZINES OUT
Armed pro-Russian activists stand outside the Ukrainian regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. A pro-Russian mob stormed a Ukrainian police station in Horlivka, another city near the Russian border. Later in the day, armed men in masks also seized control of a military airport outside the city of Slovyansk, also in the Donetsk region bordering Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Pro-Russian men throw stones during the mass storming of a police station in Horlivka, eastern Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on Monday called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the east of the country, where pro-Russian insurgents have occupied buildings in nearly 10 cities. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian men attack a police station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka Monday, April 14, 2014. Several government buildings have fallen to mobs of Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian men storm a police station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka on Monday, April 14, 2014. Several government buildings have fallen to mobs of Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A Pro-Russian activist stands during the mass storming of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka Monday, April 14, 2014. Several government buildings have fallen to mobs of Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian men throw stones during the mass storming of a police station in Horlivka, eastern Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on Monday called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the east of the country, where pro-Russian insurgents have occupied buildings in nearly 10 cities. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A pro-Russian wearing a gas mask storms a police station in Horlivka, eastern Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on Monday called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the east of the country, where pro-Russian insurgents have occupied buildings in nearly 10 cities. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian men storm a police station in Horlivka, eastern Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov on Monday called for the deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops in the east of the country, where pro-Russian insurgents have occupied buildings in nearly 10 cities. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian men watch during the mass storming of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka Monday, April 14, 2014. Several government buildings have fallen to mobs of Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Armed pro-Russian activists seize the Ukrainian regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. A pro-Russian mob stormed a Ukrainian police station in Horlivka, another city near the Russian border. Later in the day, armed men in masks also seized control of a military airport outside the city of Slovyansk, in the Donetsk region bordering Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Armed pro-Russian activists seize the Ukrainian regional administration building in the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk, Ukraine, Monday, April 14, 2014. A pro-Russian mob stormed a Ukrainian police station in Horlivka, another city near the Russian border. Later in the day, armed men in masks also seized control of a military airport outside the city of Slovyansk, also in the Donetsk region bordering Russia. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
A Pro-Russian activist uses a fire extinguisher during the mass storming of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka Monday, April 14, 2014. Several government buildings have fallen to mobs of Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian men attack a police station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka Monday, April 14, 2014. Several government buildings have fallen to mobs of Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A pro-Russian man throws a stone during the mass storming of a police station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Horlivka on Monday, April 14, 2014. Text on the building reads: "Horlivka's police". Several government buildings has fallen to mobs of Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian activists escort a man (unseen) who they say is a provocateur outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister said on April 13 that both sides had suffered casualties during a raid launched by Ukrainian special forces on a police station in the eastern city of Slavyansk that was seized by pro-Russian gunmen. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian activists escort a man who they say is a provocateur (C) outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister said on April 13 that both sides had suffered casualties during a raid launched by Ukrainian special forces on a police station in the eastern city of Slavyansk that was seized by pro-Russian gunmen. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia activists assist an Orthodox priest walk through a barricade outside the regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Kiev said on April 13 that several had been left 'dead and wounded' in fighting to oust pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive eastern city of Slavyansk, as Washington warned Moscow to de-escalate the crisis or face the consequences. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian activists pray near a barricade outside the regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Kiev said on April 13 that several had been left 'dead and wounded' in fighting to oust pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive eastern city of Slavyansk, as Washington warned Moscow to de-escalate the crisis or face the consequences. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
An armed pro-Russian protester kisses a cross hanging on the neck of an Orthodox priest as they guard the regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Kiev said on April 13 that several had been left 'dead and wounded' in fighting to oust pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive eastern city of Slavyansk, as Washington warned Moscow to de-escalate the crisis or face the consequences. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed pro-Russian protesters guard the regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Kiev said on April 13 that several had been left 'dead and wounded' in fighting to oust pro-Russian gunmen holed up in a police station in the restive eastern city of Slavyansk, as Washington warned Moscow to de-escalate the crisis or face the consequences. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia supporters surround a man who they say is a provocateur (C) outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister said on April 13 that both sides had suffered casualties during a raid launched by Ukrainian special forces on a police station in the eastern city of Slavyansk that was seized by pro-Russian gunmen. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed pro-Russia supporters walk outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister said on April 13 that both sides had suffered casualties during a raid launched by Ukrainian special forces on a police station in the eastern city of Slavyansk that was seized by pro-Russian gunmen. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
People greet an ?rmed pro-Russia supporter outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine's interior minister said on April 13 that both sides had suffered casualties during a raid launched by Ukrainian special forces on a police station in the eastern city of Slavyansk that was seized by pro-Russian gunmen. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia protesters guard a barricade outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia activists walk near a barricade outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Armed pro-Russian activists occupy the police station carrying riot shields in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Armed pro-Russian activists occupy the police station carrying riot shields as people watch on, in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
CAPTION CORRECTS THE NAME OF THE TOWN - Armed pro-Russian activists occupying the police station in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk carry riot shields on in Slovyansk, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
CAPTION CORRECTS THE NAME OF THE TOWN - Armed pro-Russian men occupying the police station in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk carry riot shields in Slovyansk, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Armed pro-Russian activists occupy the police station carrying riot shields as people watch on, in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Armed pro-Russian activists occupy the police station carrying riot shields as people watch on, in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Armed pro-Russian activist stands at a makeshift checkpoint at the entrance into the eastern Ukrainian town of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Pro-Russian protesters holding Russian flags gather at the regional administration building in Donetsk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Protesters, who have held the administration building in Donetsk since Sunday, initially called for a referendum on secession but later reduced the demand to a vote on autonomy within Ukraine with the possibility of holding another later on whether to join Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko)
Residents waving Russian flags ride in a car in Donetsk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Protesters, who have held the administration building in Donetsk since Sunday, initially called for a referendum on secession but later reduced the demand to a vote on autonomy within Ukraine with the possibility of holding another later on whether to join Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko)
Armed pro-Russian activists occupy the police station in the eastern Ukraine town of Slovyansk on Saturday, April 12, 2014. Pro-Moscow protesters have seized a number of government buildings in the east over the past week, undermining the authority of the interim government in the capital, Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Riot police officers watch as masked pro-Russian activists leave the regional prosecutor's office after their talks, in Donetsk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Saturday morning a group of pro-Russian activists armed with metal sticks seized the office. Later they have left the building after talks with police. Nobody was arrested. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Masked pro-Russian activists look out of a window of the regional prosecutor's office they seized and barricaded inside, as riot police stand, in Donetsk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Saturday morning a group of pro-Russian activists armed with metal sticks seized the office. They have left the building after talks with police. Nobody was arrested. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Masked pro-Russian activists leave the regional prosecutor's office was riot police, right, watch them, in Donetsk, Ukraine, Saturday, April 12, 2014. Saturday morning a group pro-Russian activists armed with metal sticks seized the office. Pro-Russian activists have left the building after talks with police. Nobody was arrested. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A pro-Russian activist squints as he warms himself near a fire outside the headquarters of Ukraine's security agency building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 12, 2014. Separatists demanding a referendum to join Russia seized the building a week ago as a wave of secessionist anger swept eastern Ukraine, whose mainly Russian-speaking population feels under threat from a new pro-Western government in Kiev. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
LUHANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 12: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) A government building occupied by Pro-Russian protesters is seen on April 12, 2014 in Luhansk, Ukraine. Pro-Russian protesters have occupied the government building in the eastern cities such as Donetsk and Luhansk, declared the independence from Kiev, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told there is no intention to annex the eastern Ukraine. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
LUHANSK, UKRAINE - APRIL 12: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) A government building occupied by Pro-Russian protesters is seen on April 12, 2014 in Luhansk, Ukraine. Pro-Russian protesters have occupied the government building in the eastern cities such as Donetsk and Luhansk, declared the independence from Kiev, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told there is no intention to annex the eastern Ukraine. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
Po-Russian activists hold shields signed 'Obama hands off Ukraine'and 'Down with US and EU' as they guard a barricade outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 12, 2014. Gunmen have taken over a police station in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Kremlin militants are already holding state buildings in several cities, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Saturday. 'Armed men in camouflage fatigues have taken the police station in Slavyansk,' Avakov wrote on his Facebook page, adding that 'the reaction will be very strong.' He did not provide any other details.. AFP PHOTO/ GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Po-Russian activists warm themselves outside the secret service building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Lugansk on April 12, 2014. Gunmen have taken over a police station in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Kremlin militants are already holding state buildings in several cities, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Saturday. 'Armed men in camouflage fatigues have taken the police station in Slavyansk,' Avakov wrote on his Facebook page, adding that 'the reaction will be very strong.' He did not provide any other details.. AFP PHOTO/ GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia protesters guard a barricade outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia activists prepare Molotov cocktails as they guard a barricade outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia protesters guard a barricade outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A pro-Russia protester guards outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia protesters guard a barricade outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia protesters guard a barricade outside a regional police building seized by the armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russia protesters guard a barricade outside a regional police building seized by armed separatists in Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine on Sunday launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in the eastern town of Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian activists stand on a barricade outside a regional police building seized by the armed separatists to prevent storming by the Ukrainian police special team in the eastern city of Slavyansk on April 13, 2014. Ukraine today launched an 'anti-terrorist operation' in Slavyansk, where pro-Russian gunmen have seized police and security services buildings, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said. 'Units from all of the country's force structures are participating. May God be with us,' the minister wrote on his Facebook page. AFP PHOTO / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)
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