Western sanctions against Moscow for its alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine are "absurd," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in remarks published Thursday before a visit to Serbia.
- Ukraine: Cease-fire upheld by government troops, pro-Russian separatists
- Putin orders Russian troops to withdraw from Ukraine border
- Ukraine prosecutor opens criminal probe against Russian officials
- Russia's Putin warns of rising neo-Nazism in Europe
- Putin calls on Israel to halt settlement in major policy speech, report says
- After rebel elections, NATO chief says Russian troops moving closer to Ukraine border
From Belgrade, Putin will travel to Milan for two days of talks, involving his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko and Western leaders, in a renewed push to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
"It is difficult to understand the logic" behind the decision of the United States and European Union to impose trade sanctions against Russia, Putin told the Belgrade daily Politika.
Putin is scheduled to be the guest of honour at a military parade in Belgrade to mark the 70th anniversary of the city's liberation from German occupation by Yugoslav Partisans and the Soviet Red Army.
Putin said Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March was in response to the will of its population. He warned the United States and European Union that attempts to isolate were an "illusory goal."
The West accuses Russia of backing armed separatists in eastern Ukraine by sending in arms and troops. Russia denies this.
Despite a ceasefire agreed last month, the Western-back Ukrainian government accuses Russia of continuing to train fighters and send them into eastern Ukraine, where bloody skirmishes are ongoing.
Putin will meet Poroshenko, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and top EU officials, on the sidelines of a two-day Europe-Asia summit (ASEM) in Italy.
The leaders are also likely to address a dispute over energy prices. Russia has shut off gas exports to Ukraine, demanding higher payments.
Asked whether Europe was facing reduced deliveries of gas, Putin told Politika: "The problem of transit across Ukraine obviously still exists."
"One of the obvious decisions is to diversify routes of supply," Putin said.