A Kremlin aide yesterday sharply criticised EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso for breaching confidentiality when he quoted President Vladimir Putin as saying Moscow could take over Kiev in two weeks, if it wished.
Yuri Ushakov, the Russian leader's foreign policy adviser, said Putin's statement was "taken out of context and carried a completely different meaning".
Ushakov criticised Barroso, saying it was a breach of diplomatic practices and "unworthy of a serious politician" to speak publicly about a private conversation.
Several European publications this week cited diplomats quoting Barroso as saying Putin had said in a private conversation that Russian forces had the ability to take over Ukraine's capital within two weeks.
Putin's comment reportedly came in response to Barroso pointing out Ukrainian and Western claims that Russia had sharply escalated the conflict in eastern Ukraine by sending regular army units into Ukraine. Nato has estimated that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers have entered Ukraine, helping turn the tide in favour of pro-Russian insurgents.
Ushakov yesterday reaffirmed Moscow's denial that it had sent any soldiers in, even though a rebel leader said last week that Russian servicemen on official leave were among some 4,000 Russians fighting in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said on his Facebook page on Monday that the counter-insurgency operation was over and the nation's military was now facing the Russian army in a war that could cost "tens of thousands" of lives.
Russia's Foreign Ministry dismissed Heletey's remarks as "shocking" and accused him of making the statement in a bid to shift blame and keep his seat amid a series of defeats suffered by the Ukrainian military.
Pro-Russian rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government troops since mid-April in a conflict that has left more than 2,500 people dead. In recent weeks, the rebels have scored significant gains on the ground.