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Ukraine in "full-scale civil war": Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that the crisis in Ukraine had evolved into a full-scale civil war, blaming Washington for backing the overthrow of former president Viktor Yanukovych.

SAINT PETERSBURG: Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that the crisis in Ukraine had evolved into a full-scale civil war, blaming Washington for backing the overthrow of former president Viktor Yanukovych.

"The Ukrainian crisis arose because Yanukovych postponed the association agreement with the European Union. This was followed by a coup backed by our American friends and as a result there is chaos and full-scale civil war," Putin told an economic forum in Saint Petersburg.

He also defended Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in March, saying it had followed a democratic vote for independence and prevented a tragedy like the inferno in the port city of Odessa this month that left dozens of pro-Moscow activists dead.

"With regard to Crimea, our position is clear... They voted in favour -- that is an undeniable fact," Putin said.

"If this had not been done we would have seen a tragedy, like we saw in other cities. Like in Odessa where 50 people were burned alive. I think we did the right thing."

At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near the eastern city of Donetsk, an AFP photographer said.

On Thursday, attacks by separatist gunmen in the rebel-held regions of Donetsk and Lugansk killed a total of 18 soldiers, according to a new toll provided by a military spokesman.

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