Europe

Kremlin defends its recognition of Ukraine rebel passports

  • An activist throws a smoke grenade toward riot police during a protest rally in front of the President Office in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Protesters were demanding a stop to trade relations with Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

    An activist throws a smoke grenade toward riot police during a protest rally in front of the President Office in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Protesters were demanding a stop to trade relations with Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)  (The Associated Press)

  • Riot police block the approach to the President's Office at a protest rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Protesters were demanding a stop to trade relations with Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

    Riot police block the approach to the President's Office at a protest rally in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Protesters were demanding a stop to trade relations with Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)  (The Associated Press)

  • A woman holding a red carnation argues with riot police during a protest rally in front of the President Office in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Protesters were demanding a stop to trade relations with Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

    A woman holding a red carnation argues with riot police during a protest rally in front of the President Office in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. Protesters were demanding a stop to trade relations with Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)  (The Associated Press)

The Kremlin says its decision to recognize passports and other documents issued by separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine is a response to Ukraine's blockade of rebel regions.

The weekend's move by Russian President Vladimir Putin has drawn sharp criticism from Ukraine, which called it a violation of a two-year-old peace deal. Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine since April 2014, a conflict that has killed more than 9,800 people

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday the decision was a humanitarian move to help struggling residents in the rebel regions, who have faced a transport blockade imposed by Ukrainian nationalist volunteer battalions.

Nationalist demonstrators supporting the blockade also clashed with police outside the presidential administration building in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.