After repeatedly denying similar claims in the past, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday admitted for the first time to the presence of Russian military specialists in east Ukraine. “We never said there were no people there who carried out certain tasks, including in the military sphere,” he said, insisting they were not the same as regular Russian troops.

The Guardian reported that Putin was responding to a Ukrainian reporter’s question on the capture and trial of two Russian military officers in Kiev, at a press conference in Moscow. A follow-up question to ascertain the number of Russian troops in Ukraine and their specific tasks was not permitted.

Although significant evidence of Russian army involvement has been repeatedly found in the conflict-ridden region of east Ukraine, Russia had always denied these allegations.