Russia "could take Kiev in two weeks"

MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has told European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that Russia could conquer Kiev in two weeks.

Putin is seen on Monday during the opening of the Power of Siberia pipeline (Tanjug)
Putin is seen on Monday during the opening of the Power of Siberia pipeline (Tanjug)

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica is reporting that the outgoing EC chief and Putin spoke on the phone. Denying the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, Putin reportedly told Barroso: "If I wanted, I would take Kiev in two weeks."

RIA Novosti is reporting on Tuesday that Putin's quote, made earlier in the week, was "taken out of context and had a completely different meaning." This is according to Presidential Aide Yuri Ushakov, who added, referring to Barroso's comment:

“This is incorrect, this goes beyond the framework of diplomatic practice. This is unbecoming of a serious political figure."

Despite the growing tensions in eastern Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Minsk on Monday that immediate ceasefire was "a priority for Russia."

However, Ukraine and the EU accuse Russia of supporting the rebels and supplying them with weapons and manpower. Russia has "de facto ended its partnership with Europe," said in Gdansk German President Joachim Gauck.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has accused Russia of "direct and open aggression." Ukrainian Defense Minister Valery Geletei warned that "a big war" with Russia was looming that it could, in his estimates, cost "tens of thousands of lives."

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted to this by stating that it is "hard to believe that such statements can be made by the defense minister of a civilized state."

"Otherwise, one can hardly understand how tens of thousands of Ukrainian families could entrust to this official the lives of their children, brothers and husbands called up into the Ukrainian army for a fratricidal war in their own country,” the ministry said, according to Itar-Tass.