President Putin denies war crimes as Russians appear conflicted over Ukraine 

ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports on the attitudes from Russia

Flying into Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome to celebrate Cosmonauts Day, Vladimir Putin was much closer to his country’s border with China than Ukraine. But despite being thousands of miles away from Ukraine, it was clear the conflict was at the top of his mind.

Speaking to space agency workers at the cosmodrome, President Putin told them the goals of Russia’s operation in Ukraine “are absolutely clear and noble.”

In recent days Russia has been accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine, of using chemical weapons and of executing and raping civilians, including children. 

On Tuesday, President Putin repeated his statement that he had launched a "special military operation" against Ukraine to protect Russia.

"On the one hand, we are helping and saving people, and on the other, we are simply taking measures to ensure the security of Russia itself," Putin said. "It's clear that we didn't have a choice. It was the right decision."

Watch Dan Rivers' report from Bucha - a warning, the video contains footage and images of dead bodies and scenes showing the aftermath of torture

This video contains distressing images

Flanked by his closest ally, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, President Putin dismissed reports of Russian war crimes in Bucha in Ukraine as a "fake," and said peace talks had reached a "dead end."

Belarus is currently hosting thousands of Russia’s armed forces and its leader Alexander Lukashenko said alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine were a "special operation which the British organised."

"If anybody needs more addresses, passwords, and registration numbers of cars which they used to come to Bucha, then the Russian FSB can give you these materials," Lukashenko said.

The claim that the United Kingdom is staging war crimes in Ukraine to falsely frame Russia has been widely reported on Russian state television.

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"In one cellar, they are piling up bodies which will be presented as the next alleged victims of the Russian army," said Colonel General Michael Mizintsev who commanded attacks against Mariupol.

Most Russians get their news from state television and the opinions voiced by the military, TV anchors and pundits are echoed on the country’s streets.

"I support the operation," one man told ITV News in Moscow on Tuesday.

"The Ukrainians sold everything they could, including our friendship. We used to get on so well. We were one people but they betrayed us. They sold out to the Americans so that the Americans had a chance to put their weapons near our borders."

ITV News Correspondent Peter Smith reports on the allegation of a chemical attack in Mariupol

According to the latest poll released by the independent polling agency Levada Center, 81% of Russians support Russia in the conflict against Ukraine saying they feel "pride" at the Russian military’s actions.

Most people, according to the poll, believe Russia’s actions are aimed at protecting people in the Donbas region.

"It is hard to be certain how many people hear about alleged crimes," Denis Gudkov from the Levada Center told ITV News. "

The conflict makes it hard to hear news from places other than official Russian sources and people believe they should listen to official information."

As well as consolidating the state’s hold on television - and the minds of ordinary Russians - the conflict with Ukraine has also given President Vladimir Putin a popularity boost.

"In October last year President Putin’s support was about 63%," Denis Volkov from the Levada Centre told ITV News.

"By the time the escalation started, his rating had already gone up. In March his support went up considerably and by the end of March he had about 83% support."

Hundreds of Russians have been arrested after protesting against the Ukraine war. Credit: AP

There are signs, however, that Russians are increasingly concerned about the economic impact of their country’s military involvement in the war with Ukraine. At the same time as President Putin’s support has increased, so have worries about the impact of western sanctions against Russia. 

According to a new Levada Center poll, more than half of Russians say they are concerned about sanctions with a third saying sanctions have caused them problems personally.

Speaking at the Vostochny Cosmodrome on the anniversary of the Soviet Union sending the first man into space, President Putin dismissed the consequences of sanctions. Putin said Russia would use sanctions to push forward and develop new domestic technologies just as the Soviets did decades ago.

"We don't intend to be isolated," Putin said. "It is impossible to severely isolate anyone in the modern world - especially such a vast country as Russia."

Not all Russians agree.

On Moscow’s cold and blustery streets today the chill of international isolation appeared to galvanise some Russians to speak out.

What is happening in Ukraine, one student said, "violates all norms of international law and I am totally against it."

"I’ve been afraid for too long and I think now we should speak up. We are isolated in the world and I want the world to know there are many people in Russia who are against this."