Putin repeated his argument that regions in eastern Ukraine historically had been part of the Russian empire called Novorossiya, or "New Russia," before they were handed over to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.
"God knows why," Putin said.
He also made disparaging comments about Ukrainian nationalism, saying that it's rooted in centuries of humiliation people in western Ukraine suffered while being "second-grade" citizens of other states, including the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Poland.
But he also seemed to keep the door open for Russia to recognize Ukraine's presidential election set for May 25, softening his previous demand that it must be postponed until the fall and preceded by a referendum on broader powers for the regions. He added that the primary goal is to ensure that people in the east should be offered clear guarantees of the protection of their rights.
Putin maintained a tough stance on the gas price to Ukraine, which Russia has hiked 80 percent since Yanukovych's ouster and warned that Moscow will start requesting advance payments for gas shipped to Ukraine in one month if it fails to start paying off its massive debt.
Putin also urged Ukraine to reopen trade and transportation routes into Moldova's separatist province of Trans-Dniester, which has run its own affairs without international recognition since a war in 1992. Russia and the Trans-Dniester authorities say that Ukraine has blocked transport routes to the region. Putin has dodged a question about whether Moscow could accept Trans-Dniester's request for the recognition of its independence.
Facing questions about more Western penalties to follow the first rounds of sanctions over the annexation of Crimea, Putin sought to assuage fears they could cripple Russia's vital energy sector. He said that the EU will be unable to do without Russian natural gas supplies, and it would be hard for the U.S. to hurt Russia by encouraging a drop in oil prices.