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Kremlin Defends its Recognition of Ukraine Rebel Passports

FILE - A young Russia-backed rebel shows a passport of self-proclaimed Luhansk Peoples Republic.

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, Kyiv.