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Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine would undoubtedly achieve what he said were its “noble” objectives.

Speaking at an awards ceremony at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East, Putin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies that said Moscow had no other choice but to launch a military operation to protect Russia and that a clash with Ukraine’s anti-Russian forces had been inevitable.

“Its goals are absolutely clear and noble,” Putin said of Russia’s military campaign.

Putin said the main objective of Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine was to save people in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014.

Ukraine repulses attacks in east as Russia presses to control Mariupol

“On the one hand, we are helping and saving people, and on the other, we are simply taking measures to ensure the security of Russia itself,” Putin said. “It’s clear that we didn’t have a choice. It was the right decision.”

Millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee the country since Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what it called a special operation to degrade its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and root out people it called dangerous nationalists.

Ukrainian forces have mounted stiff resistance and the West has imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia in an effort to force it to withdraw its forces.

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