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Source

Putin has maintained the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas region is pro-Russia, although polls have indicated that is not the case.

This is the first time I've seen this claim, especially used in this context as a justification for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Did Putin actually say this? If so, where and when and in what context? I've not found any results from a cursory Google search.

NB: I'm interested in the first part of the sentence, not the second ("... although polls have indicated that is not the case").

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    This seems unremarkable to me; any background reading on the situation will lead you to discover Russia's recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, and Putin's use of Ukraine's treatment of ethnic Russians in the region as a justification for the "Special Military Operation" which everyone else calls an invasion of Ukraine.
    – IMSoP
    Jul 4 at 14:29
  • @IMSoP that's not the reason quoted by al Jazeera in the OP's source.
    – Allure
    Jul 4 at 14:37
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    If anything, Putin has gone far further than saying those areas are "pro-Russia"; at times, he's claimed that the whole of Ukraine is not a real state, and is instead a natural part of Russia. Start with an overview like Wikipedia's and follow some links; I'm not sure what there is to be skeptical about in the quoted sentence.
    – IMSoP
    Jul 4 at 15:10
  • @IMSoP I am not concerned with Putin saying the whole of Ukraine is not a real state, etc. I am concerned with whether Putin said those areas are pro-Russia. That is the only thing I care about.
    – Allure
    Jul 4 at 15:21
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    I think what I'm getting at is, why do you find this surprising, such that you want additional evidence for it? It seems entirely in keeping with the consistent messages Russia has been putting out for years.
    – IMSoP
    Jul 4 at 16:37

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Whatever Putin's exact words may have been and whether Al-Jazeera may have twisted them a bit (they don't claim it's an exact quote by the way), the DPR leader Pushilin was recently quoted as saying (in the only English source I found):

“The Donetsk People’s Republic has a huge potential and development prospects, and we are happy to enter the family of Russian regions as equal partners who have something to offer,” Pushilin said at the second stage of the XXVII Conference of the Moscow city regional branch of the United Russia party ”, reports the Daily Storm.

It's hard to argue that's not a "pro-Russia" position of the de-facto authorities in the region, which Russia also recognizes as legitimate (de jure).

And you can probably find dozens more quotes along lines from the leaders of the DPR & LPR, assuming you bother to trawl the Russian websites. I would consider these reliable as far as quoting the DPR/LPR leadership goes. They tend not to make more international news. (The last site is not the [Western neo-nazi] Daily Stormer, but https://dailystorm.ru/, by the way. The ultimate source of that quote appears to be the URA.ru Russian [somewhat regional] news agency.)

If you look at one of the latest news pieces from the latter, in google translation it reads as:

The Kherson region was liberated from the nationalists and the Ukrainian military during a Russian special operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. It happened on March 15th. They have already started issuing Russian passports. The authorities of Kherson announced a rush demand for this document.

So they are somewhat obviously claiming a lot of the population of the other regions entered by Russian troops (Kherson is not in the Donbas proper) is happy to get Russian passports. Editorializing something like that as "pro-Russia" attitude is not much of a stretch.

And if one wants to go down the memory lane, as far back as 2014 Putin spoke (original) of the "militia of Novorossiya" (which is broader region than the Donbas) as having successfully opposed "the military operation of Kyiv". So when Al-Jazeera uses the word "maintained" in re Putin's positions, it's probably alluding to something like that. As Vox commented then on that choice of terminology of the Kremlin:

The statement itself was otherwise banal, but in giving the rebels this name, he is seemingly not just referring to them as an extension of Russia (everybody already knew this) and not just adopting the heavily loaded imperial terminology, but endorsing that the rebels and the land they stand on are, in a sense, part of Russia.

Some of the rebels themselves used the Novorossiya flag around that time, so that might have been among the reasons why Putin used the term. And in a piece of news from 2015:

Putin said [...] in his annual televised Q&A session last year, recalling that the breakaway territories in Ukraine had a long, shared history with Russia:

I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya (New Russia) back in the tsarist days — Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa — were not part of Ukraine back then. These territories were given to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviet government. Why? Who knows. They were won by Potyomkin and Catherine the Great in a series of well-known wars. The centre of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained.

Of course, if one extrapolates just a bit from the more recent (2021) speeches, almost all the people of Ukraine are or at least should be pro-Russia...

I would like to emphasize that the wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between the parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space, to my mind is our great common misfortune and tragedy. These are, first and foremost, the consequences of our own mistakes made at different periods of time. But these are also the result of deliberate efforts by those forces that have always sought to undermine our unity. The formula they apply has been known from time immemorial – divide and rule. There is nothing new here. Hence the attempts to play on the ”national question“ and sow discord among people, the overarching goal being to divide and then to pit the parts of a single people against one another.

So depending how much one wants to read between the lines... Donbas is [pro-]Russia, Novorossiya is [pro-]Russia, Ukraine is or should be [pro-]Russia (according to those speeches).

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    Somewhat of marginal relevance, but back in 2014 Pushilin said in one of the few interviews with the Western press "We don’t want to separate from Ukraine and form a new little country. We want to join a big country—for me, personally, it’s the Russian Empire. I don’t see anything bad in imperialism."
    – Fizz
    Jul 4 at 20:42
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    I should hope Al-Jazeera didn't confuse Pushilin with Putin ...
    – Allure
    Jul 6 at 1:27
  • @Allure: it probably has more to do with how the English-language press from the "global south" phrases things. Even on a cursory look at the Indian press, everyone is pro-something and anti-something (especially regarding Russia v. Ukraine). Al-Jazeera also seems to fit that style, with somewhat odd expressions like "Pro-Russian troops" etc.
    – Fizz
    Jul 8 at 1:26
  • And yeah, plenty of Western press, especially the more tabloidish one, does the same.
    – Fizz
    Jul 8 at 1:47

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