SOCHI, Russia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Paralympic leaders that Russia was not "an instigator" of the Crimea crisis and thanked them for keeping politics out of the Winter Paralympics in Sochi.

Putin spoke to national Paralympic association officials Thursday in the midst of a games that has been overshadowed by pro-Russian forces taking over Ukraine's nearby Crimea peninsula.

Putin did not name Ukraine but said he was referring to the "complicated circumstances which you all know about very well."

Putin said through a translator: "I would like to assure you that Russia did not initiate, it was not an instigator, of these difficult circumstances."

Several Western nations declined to send official delegations to the Paralympics opening ceremony last week, but Putin thanked the sports leaders for "staying out of politics."