Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will not abandon Russians living in southeast Ukraine to what he described as Ukrainian "nationalists."
Putin made the remarks in a documentary due to be broadcast later on December 20.
Moscow says Ukrainian nationalists pose a threat to ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the region. More than 9,000 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops since April 2014.
"We proceed from only one thing, which is we cannot just abandon the people who live in the southeast of the country to nationalists to eat them up," Putin said in comments quoted by Russian news agencies.
"There is nothing excessive in that position."
He did not elaborate.
Putin has denied allegations by independent observers and media that Russian regular troops are taking part in the conflict. However, on December 18 he admitted that Russia did have personnel in eastern Ukraine who were carrying out certain military tasks.
According to RIA, Putin also said Russia would continue to improve its nuclear arsenal, but added that it would not wield the "nuclear big stick."
Based on reporting by TASS, Interfax and Reuters