Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that the goal of what he calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine is to “end the war” in the eastern Donbas region, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.
Speaking at a meeting with World War II veterans and survivors of the siege of Leningrad, Putin reportedly said that effectively “full-scale hostilities in Donbas have not stopped since 2014 — with the use of heavy equipment, artillery, tanks and aircraft.”
“Everything we do today, including in the special military operation, is an attempt to end this war,” Putin said, according to RIA Novosti. “That is the meaning of our operation. And to protect our people who live there, in these territories.”
In late December, Putin used the word “war” to refer to the conflict in Ukraine, the first known time he has publicly deviated from his carefully crafted description of Moscow’s invasion as a “special military operation.”
More on Donbas: The industrial region blankets much of eastern Ukraine and has been the front line of the country’s conflict with Moscow since 2014. The Donbas’ longstanding industrial pull has attracted people from across Eastern Europe over the past century, and it has had strong social and economic ties to neighboring Russia as well as the rest of Ukraine.
Its distance from the capital Kyiv and other metropolitan centers has given rise to a vast collection of local movements, and that was the backdrop upon which pro-Russian separatists attempted to seize control following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
Putin’s annexation of Crimea and the occupation of parts of Donbas by Russian-backed rebels in 2014 brought to a crashing halt a period of increasing prosperity in the region.
War broke out in 2014 after Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Intense fighting left portions of Luhansk and Donetsk in the hands of Russian-backed separatists.
CNN’s Rob Picheta contributed reporting to this post.