Russia’s Vladimir Putin has claimed that the war in eastern Ukraine between pro-Moscow separatists and Ukrainian forces “looks like genocide".
The comment by Mr Putin, during a meeting of Russia's human rights council, came in response to a question on discrimination against Russian speakers beyond its borders. It echoes similar allegations Mr Putin has made before in reference to the war in eastern Ukraine.
“I have to say that Russophobia is a first step towards genocide.
“You and I know what is happening in Donbass,” Mr Putin said, adding: “It certainly looks like genocide.”
His claim was rejected by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said Russia was known for escalating its rhetoric and misinformation.
Since 2014 Moscow has annexed Crimea and Kiev's forces are locked in conflict with separatists supported by Russia in the east of Ukraine. The fighting there has cost about 13,000 lives so far.
Many of those in Donbass are predominantly Russian-speaking.
It comes amid heightened tensions in the region, with Russia massing troops — as many as 90,000 — on its border with Ukraine.
A call between Mr Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden was seen as an effort to defuse tensions, with Russia warned it faced heavy sanctions if it took military action against Ukraine.
Mr Biden also spoke to Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. They discussed “the security situation around Ukraine and the prospects of activating the peace settlement”, a Ukrainian presidential statement said.