President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would stabilize the situation in four Ukrainian regions it has claimed as its own territory, an indirect acknowledgment of the challenges it faces to assert its control.
Russian forces have suffered significant losses in two of the four regions since Friday, when Putin signed treaties to incorporate them into Russia after what it called referendums - exercises that Ukraine and the West denounced as coercive and illegal.
"We proceed from the fact that the situation will be stabilized, we will be able to calmly develop these territories," Putin said in televised remarks.
Earlier his spokesman said the four regions faced an intensive process of adaptation, and that it would be difficult.
Reeling from Ukrainian gains in the past few weeks, Russia does not fully control any of the four regions. In two of them, it has yet to define the boundaries of the territory it claims.
Putin, speaking at an award ceremony for teachers, also said he had great respect for the Ukrainian people.
"We always, and even today despite the current tragedy, hold great respect for the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian culture, language, literature and so on," he said.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and their country since Putin ordered Russia's invasion on Feb. 24.