He also alleged that Moscow "sincerely" tried to implement the Minsk Accords it signed with Kyiv in 2014.
Read also: Zelensky addresses the nation following Russia abandoning Minsk peace process
"We assumed we could have reached an agreement (with Ukraine), that Luhansk and Donetsk would somehow be able to reunite with Ukraine, following the Minsk agreements," Russian media outlet Smotri quotes Putin.
Read also: Russia likely redeploying airborne forces from Kherson to Donbas, says UK intelligence
"We sincerely worked towards this goal, but we didn't really feel the mood of local people… But now it's obvious that this reunification (occupation and annexation of parts of Donbas) should have happened earlier - maybe then there wouldn't have been so many casualties among civilians and children. Well, at least it happened eventually."
Read also: Russia will likely redeploy some troops from Kherson to Bakhmut in Donetsk Oblast, says UK intelligence
After former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014, Moscow moved to occupy and annex Crimea, followed by an invasion of Donbas. When Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, he cited "protecting the people of Donbas" as one of the aims of the military campaign.
After nine months of the war, the Kremlin still falls short of controlling the entire Donetsk Oblast. Heavy fighting continues in the region.