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Putin: Russia has right to use force in Ukraine

By Tim Sullivan & Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:14 a.m. HST, Mar 04, 2014

MOSCOW >> Accusing the West of encouraging an "unconstitutional coup" in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow reserves the right to use its military to protect Russians there but voiced hope it won't need to do so. The Russian leader's first comments on Ukraine since its fugitive president fled to Russia came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kiev to meet with Ukraine's new government.

Putin declared that Western actions were driving Ukraine into anarchy and warned that any sanctions the West places on Russia for its actions there will backfire. Both the U.S. and the 28-nation European Union have raised the possibility of sanctions against Russia.

The U.S. announced a $1 billion aid package Tuesday in energy subsidies to Ukraine, which is scrambling to get international loans to fend off looming bankruptcy. Its finance minister, who has said Ukraine needs $35 billion to get through this year and next, was meeting Tuesday with officials from the International Monetary Fund.

Tensions remained high Tuesday in Crimea, with troops loyal to Moscow firing warning shots to ward off protesting Ukrainian soldiers. Russia took over the strategic peninsula on Saturday, placing its troops around the peninsula's ferry, military bases and border posts. Two Ukrainian warships remained anchored in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, blocked from leaving by Russian ships.

The new Ukrainian leadership in Kiev, which Putin does not recognize, has accused Moscow of a military invasion in Crimea.

Yet world markets seemed to recover from their fright over the situation in Ukraine, clawing back a large chunk of Monday's stock losses, while oil, gold, wheat and the Japanese yen gave back some of their gains.

"Confidence in equity markets has been restored as the standoff between Ukraine and Russia is no longer on red alert," David Madden, market analyst at IG, said Tuesday.

Speaking from his residence outside Moscow, Putin said he still considers Viktor Yanukovych to be Ukraine's president and hopes that Russia won't need to use force in predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

"We aren't going to fight the Ukrainian people," Putin said, adding that the massive military maneuvers Russia has been doing near Ukraine's border had been planned and were unrelated to the situation in Ukraine.

Earlier in the day, Putin had ordered tens of thousands of Russian troops participating in those exercises to return to their bases -- some 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and dozens of aircraft in all.

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

Putin accused the West of using Yanukovych's decision in November to ditch a pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia to encourage the months of protests that drove him from power and put Ukraine's future in turmoil.

"We have told them a thousand times 'Why are you splitting the country?'" he said.

Yet he acknowledged that Yanukovych has no political future and said Russia gave him shelter only to save his life. Ukraine's new government wants to put the fugitive leader on trial for the deaths of over 80 people during protests last month in Kiev.

Ukraine's dire finances were a key issue in the protests that drove Yanukovych from power. On Tuesday, Russia's state-controlled natural gas giant Gazprom said it will cancel a price discount on gas it sells to Ukraine. Russia had offered the discount in December as part of Russian help for Ukraine. Gazprom also said Ukraine owes it $1.5 billion.

Crimea still remained a potential flashpoint. Pro-Russian troops who had taken control of the Belbek air base in Crimea fired warning shots into the air Tuesday 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.

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

Putin said 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Crimea have "dispersed." He didn't explain if that meant they had just left their posts or if they had switched allegiances from Kiev to the local pro-Russian government. Those officials claimed Tuesday that 5,500 Ukrainian soldiers had pledged allegiance to them and said they were seeking to move up a vote planned for March 30 on the region's status.

At the United Nations in New York, Russia's ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, said Russia was entitled to deploy up to 25,000 troops in Crimea under the agreement.

Russia is demanding the implementation of a Western-sponsored peace deal that Yanukovych signed with the opposition last month that set a new Ukrainian presidential election no later than December. Yanukovych fled the capital hours after the signing and ended up in Russia, and the Ukrainian parliament then set the vote for May 25.

In Brussels, meanwhile, the ambassadors of NATO's 28 member nations held another emergency meeting on Ukraine at the request of Poland, which borders both Russia and Ukraine. The alliance said it and Russia agreed to discuss the latest developments in Ukraine at a special meeting Wednesday.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said Russia's military intervention in Ukraine violates the U.N. charter and threatens peace and security in Europe.

President Barack Obama has said Russia is "on the wrong side of history" in Ukraine and its actions violate international law. Obama says the U.S. is considering economic and diplomatic options that will isolate Russia.

In return, Russia's agricultural oversight agency on Tuesday reversed its earlier decision to lift the ban on imports of U.S. pork. It said the existing U.S. system of checks don't guarantee its safety.

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 in Crimea pull back over the next three days. The bloc's 28 heads of state and government will hold an emergency meeting Thursday to decide whether to impose sanctions against Russia.

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



Sullivan reported from Crimea. Ivan Sekretarev in Sevastopol, Juergen Baetz in Brussels and Raul Gallego in Crimea contributed to this report.

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loquaciousone wrote:
Putin's KGB thuggery shows itself. How do you like your new friend Snowden?
on March 4,2014 | 05:54AM
hanalei395 wrote:
John Kerry, no friend of Putin, tells Putin ....... "You don't invade a country on completely phony pretexts' ". (Note to Kerry: Somebody already did in 2003).
on March 4,2014 | 09:40AM
serious wrote:
Putin makes more sense than Obama. HE was just on TV and I'll wait for one of the talking head announcers to explain what he said.
on March 4,2014 | 05:59AM
Grimbold wrote:
I agree with Putin. The majority of Krim residents would rather be under Russian jurisdiction than under the chaotic Ukraine.
on March 4,2014 | 06:22AM
ryan02 wrote:
Putin is an anti-democracy comic book villain, but doesn't it seem like he's always one step ahead of Obama and Kerry?
on March 4,2014 | 08:41AM
pcman wrote:
As soon as Obama announces a reduction in forces, a transfer of forces to the Pacific, Putin takes the charge. That's how anti-American leaders think. US is no longer a superpower, a goal of the Obama regime from day one. Read Obama's books.
on March 4,2014 | 08:57AM
ryan02 wrote:
Russia is less of a superpower than the US. The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its military spending. Maybe there was a lesson there for the US regarding the importance of economics over military might.
on March 4,2014 | 09:51AM
ryan02 wrote:
Is this similar to how the U.S. invades and interferes with foreign nations to "protect U.S. interests there"? We sent troops to Vietnam to stop an election because we didn't like the guy who was expected to win the election. We invaded Grenada during its period of political unrest to protect U.S. medical students. We sold arms illegally to Iran to raise money to fund a revolution in Nicaragua. And that was just during the cold war. We've been continuing to flex U.S. muscle all around the world. Doesn't the U.S. pride itself on leading by example? If I were Russia, I would tell the U.S. to suck it.
on March 4,2014 | 06:03AM
Usagi336 wrote:
Don't forget the USS Boston in Honolulu harbor.
on March 4,2014 | 06:42AM
hanalei395 wrote:
And the enemy invaders, from Ali'iolani Hale, threatening, aiming their cannons and Gatling guns directly at 'Iolani Palace.
on March 4,2014 | 08:06AM
krusha wrote:
Russia can develop ties with other nations to offset sanctions? I'm guessing he means Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Uganda, and Venezuela? Good luck with Putin trying to squeeze blood out of a bunch of stones.
on March 4,2014 | 06:15AM
cojef wrote:
All the President needs to do is direct the EPA to approve the Keystone Pipeline and flood the oil market which will cause the world oil price to sink below 70/80 dollar$ a barrel and result in bankrupting the Russian economy. This the "Ace" in the hole or threat we can use to put Putin in his place. However, the President will let some bureaucrat determine the fate of the Ukrainians
on March 4,2014 | 08:23AM
ryan02 wrote:
Yep, economics won the cold war, not bombs.
on March 4,2014 | 09:52AM
AhiPoke wrote:
"Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow reserves the right to use its military to protect Russians there..." - Wasn't it Hitler that used a similar excuse as he invaded Poland? It's clear that Putin wants to reassemble the USSR and the world is too weak to do anything about it. Eventually the world will pay a huge price as Russia bulds its economic and military strength. Our president needs to draw a red line. LOL
on March 4,2014 | 06:29AM
loquaciousone wrote:
He also said Russia reserves the right to protect all Russian speaking people. That amounts to all the little countries that border Russia. They must be really really worried right now.
on March 4,2014 | 06:37AM
Winston wrote:
Yes. No doubt soon to be expanded to countries whose citizens may have heard Russian spoken. Maybe, if we roll over and play dead hard enough in global affairs, Comrade Putin will have a go at some of the low hanging NATO fruit. After all, how is what goes on outside our back yard our business.
on March 4,2014 | 07:28AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Better not say Smirnoff or Stolychinaya next time you're in the bar.
on March 4,2014 | 07:52AM
Winston wrote:
Or you can just order the favorite drink of former Iron Curtain fans, The Boot On the Neck. Seriously, must be consumed with boot on neck.
on March 4,2014 | 08:35AM
hanalei395 wrote:
"protect all Russian speaking people". ..... Just in the Crimea, where the majority of the population is Russian.
on March 4,2014 | 08:50AM
XML808 wrote:
If Texas decided they didn't want to be a part of the union any more, would we tolerate Russia getting involved. Probably not.
on March 4,2014 | 07:01AM
cojef wrote:
Irony, during 2012 Presidential election, President Obama criticized his opponent that the "Cold War" had ended 20 years ago during the campaign debate. Well, the "Cold War" has raised its ugly head again. What say you, Barry?
on March 4,2014 | 08:06AM
ryan02 wrote:
Putting aside for a moment the fact that the US and Russia hate each other, does THIS really sound so unreasonable that it's worth going to war over: "Russia is demanding the implementation of a Western-sponsored peace deal that Yanukovych signed with the opposition last month that set a new Ukrainian presidential election no later than December"?
on March 4,2014 | 08:28AM
ryan02 wrote:
Putting aside for a moment the fact that the US and Russia don't like each other, is THIS really worth fighting over to try to stop it: "Russia is demanding the implementation of a Western-sponsored peace deal that Yanukovych signed with the opposition last month that set a new Ukrainian presidential election no later than December"?
on March 4,2014 | 08:31AM
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