Russian President Vladimir Putin said talks on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine must discuss statehood for the region.
In an interview with Russia's TV Channel One aired on August 31, Putin said: "We need to immediately begin substantive talks...on questions of the political organization of society and statehood for southeastern Ukraine with the goal of protecting the lawful interests of the people who live there."
Putin also said that Moscow could not stand aside "when people are being shot at almost at point blank" in Ukraine.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said the president did not envision sovereignty for the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine that style themselves as "Novorossia" (New Russia).
Peskov said the region should remain part of Ukraine.
The West accuses Russia of supporting pro-Moscow separatist rebels who are fighting Ukrainian government forces.
NATO estimates at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine.
Moscow denies the accusations.
Last week Ukraine said it had captured 10 Russian paratroopers and presented them to the press as evidence that the Russian military is fighting alongside pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Russia, however, said the paratroopers had mistakenly crossed an unmarked area of the border while on patrol.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said Ukraine handed back nine of the paratroopers to Russia on August 31 in exchange for 63 Ukrainian soldiers, who had crossed into Russia last week.
The European Union has threatened Russia with new trade sanctions if Moscow fails to start reversing its actions in Ukraine.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy says EU officials will draw up proposals for new sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine within a week.
He was speaking early on August 31 after a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
It was not clear when sanctions might actually be implemented, however.
Russia is the EU's third-largest trading partner and one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers.
The fighting between the Ukraine military and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has claimed some 2,600 lives, according to UN figures.