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Putin says Russia has right to use force in Ukraine

QuestCinq.com/News

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia reserves the right to use military force to protect compatriots living in Ukraine, but would do so only as a last resort.

Breaking his silence on events in Ukraine since massive pro-Europe protests forced out Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich, Putin skirted questions about Russian troops taking control of Ukraine’s Crimea region, saying the armed men who seized buildings there were local forces.

He also distanced himself from Yanukovich and said international retaliation against Russia over Ukraine would be counterproductive, warning that anyone imposing sanctions should think of the damage they would incur.

“There can be only one assessment of what happened in Kiev, in Ukraine in general. This was an anti-constitutional coup and the armed seizure of power. No one argues with this. Who can argue with it?” Putin said, looking relaxed as he sat before a small group of reporters at his residence near Moscow.

“As for bringing in forces: For now there is no such need but such a possibility exists,” he said. “What could serve as a reason to use military force? It would naturally be the last resort, absolutely the last.”

Putin said Russia would not encourage separatist moves in Ukraine, where many people in eastern and southern regions are Russian speakers and have closer ties to Russia than to the new leaders in Kiev, who are seeking stronger ties with the European Union.

Putin also insisted that the Russian military deployment in Ukraine’s strategic region of Crimea has remained within the limits set by a bilateral agreement on a Russian military base there. He said Russia has no intentions of annexing Crimea, but he insisted that its residents have the right to determine the region’s status in a referendum set for this month.

“We are not going to meddle. But we think all Ukraine’s citizens, no matter where they live, should have the same rights to … determine the future of their country,” he said.

He also said a threat to pull Russia’s ambassador out of Washington over the events in Ukraine would be a last resort.

Putin seemed to place blame for the events in Ukraine on the United States, Washington had backed the protesters. He also said the recent volatility of European and Russian stock markets was the fault of the U.S., and implied that Washington was hypocritical in its criticism of Russia.

“Let’s remember what the U.S. did in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya,” he said. “We believe we are completely legitimate in what we are doing.”

The international diplomatic scramble to calm the Russia-Ukraine tensions continued Tuesday.

ukraine uprising

Click here for more on the crisis in Ukraine.

In Brussels, the ambassadors of NATO’s 28 member nations said they would hold a second emergency meeting on Ukraine on Tuesday. The decision came after Poland, which borders both Russia and Ukraine, invoked an article calling for consultations when a nation sees its “territorial integrity, political independence or security threatened.”

The White House announced a $1 billion in aid to Ukraine Tuesday morning, while Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev to show the U.S.’s support for Ukraine’s new leadership. The White House also said it would work with international parteners to provide more aid.

A U.S. official said told Reuters the U.S. was ready to impose sanctions on Russia in a matter of days if the situation doesn’t change.

The European Union’s foreign ministers on Monday threatened Moscow with halting talks on visa liberalization and negotiations on further economic cooperation unless Russian troops on the Crimean peninsula pull back over the next three days.

The bloc’s 28 heads of state and government will hold an emergency meeting Thursday that will decide whether to impose sanctions against Russia if there is no de-escalation on the ground.

Putin’s economic advisor, Sergei Glazyev, says Russia can develop financial ties with other nations to offset any potential Western sanctions.

Tensions are rising between Russia and Ukraine on the ground as well.

On Tuesday, pro-Russian troops who had taken control of the Belbek air base in Crimea fired warning shots into the air as around 300 Ukrainian soldiers, who previously manned the airfield, demanded their jobs back.

About a dozen soldiers at the base warned the Ukrainians, who were marching unarmed, not to approach. They fired several warning shots into the air and said they would shoot the Ukrainians if they continued to march toward them.

Ukrainians said the troops that have overtaken Belbek and other Ukrainian military bases across Crimea, but Putin denied it, saying they were self-defense forces answering the pro-Russian regional government.

The shots reflected tensions running high in the Black Sea peninsula since Russian troops — estimated by Ukrainian authorities to be 16,000 strong  — tightened their grip over the weekend on the Crimean peninsula, where Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet is based.

Source: Al Jazeera and wire services

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