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Putin defends Russian action in Ukraine to Merkel, cites 'ultranationalist forces'

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during his working meetings at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. Moscow has been sending mixed signals about Ukraine but pledged to respect its territorial integrity. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine, a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization, closer into Moscow's orbit. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti Presidential Press Service, Alexei Nikolsky) (The Associated Press)

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    German Chancellor Angela Merkel listens during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron inside 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday Feb. 27, 2014. German Chancellor Angela Merkel wooed a welcoming but skeptical audience of British lawmakers Thursday with a call for a strong, unified Europe with Britain at its heart. Merkel addressed Britain's Parliament during a visit full of ceremonial honor and political purpose. Prime Minister David Cameron sees Merkel as a potential ally in reshaping the European Union, and laid on lunch at the prime minister's Downing St. residence and tea with Queen Elizabeth II on top of the speech to lawmakers. (AP Photo/ Facundo Arrizabalaga, Pool) (The Associated Press)

President Vladimir Putin has defended Russia's action against "ultranationalist forces" in Ukraine during a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A Kremlin statement posted online said Putin spoke with Merkel by phone Sunday, and that Putin "directed her attention to the unrelenting threat of violence" to "Russian citizens and the whole Russian-speaking population." The statement said Putin had stressed that measures taken by Russia so far were "fully adequate."

Since parliament gave him a green light to use military force in Ukraine late Saturday, Putin has defied calls from the West to pull back his troops, insisting Moscow has a right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in the strategic Crimea region and elsewhere in Ukraine.