Putin hints at 'statehood' for eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin renewed calls Sunday for talks to end the conflict in Ukraine, but then reportedly endangered any negotiations Monday by bragging about how easily Russia could conquer the nation.

“We must immediately begin substantive, meaningful negotiations, not on technical questions, but about the political organization of society and the statehood of Ukraine’s southeast for the unconditional securing of the legal interests of the people who live there,” Putin in a pre-recorded television interview.

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A day later Putin was quoted boasting in a phone call with outgoing European Commission President José Manual Barroso about his country's superior military.

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that in the conversation with Barroso, Putin remarked: "If I want, I take Kiev in two weeks."

Moscow is "intervening overtly in Ukraine,’’ NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

He announced that the 28-member alliance would hammer out a ‘‘Readiness Action Plan’’ at its pending summit in Wales to respond to ‘‘Russia’s aggressive behavior.’’

Putin’s comments come as more and more U.S. lawmakers say President Obama should provide arms to Ukraine’s military.

"We have to give the Ukrainians the fighting chance to defend themselves," Sen. Robert MenendezRobert MenendezTaiwan and ICAO: this is the time Rubio warns of terror attack from Cuba flights Politicians shouldn’t be above the law, Trump and Clinton included MORE (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday.

Menendez labeled recent incursions by Russian military forces into Ukraine an invasion and called for a new round of sanctions against Moscow.

Meanwhile, the European Union has given the Kremlin one week to halt its military operations in Ukraine or face additional sanctions.

On Monday, the BBC reported that Ukrainian troops had abandoned an airport in Luhansk after clashing with rebels and coming under attack by Russian tanks. Officials in Ukraine also said a border guard vessel operating in the Azov Sea was attacked by land-based forces.

The latest developments give even greater urgency to a fresh round of talks due to get underway Monday in Belarus aimed at relieving tensions between Kiev and Moscow.

"We call for an exclusively peaceful settlement of this severe crisis, this tragedy,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told students at Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Monday, according to an Associated Press report.