Putin will reserve right touse force in troubled region
Vladimir Putin made an uncompromising public appearance yesterday, denouncing the new Ukrainian government and warning that Russia reserves the right to use military force against its western neighbour.
In his first public comments on the Ukrainian crisis since protesters swept to power last month, the Russian president was on combative form and made some outlandish claims.
"There is no necessity to (take military action) now, but that option is on the table," he told a press conference. "We retain the right to use all possible means available to us."
He added that "we aren't going to fight the Ukrainian people", and ordered troops in western Russia on a mass exercise back to their base.
Mr Putin refused to recognise Ukraine's recently appointed interim president, Oleksander Turchynov, and maintained that the government in Kiev had no legal authority.
"The parliament is partially legitimate, but all the rest is not," he said.
Mr Putin admitted that the ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who has taken refuge in Russia, no longer had any authority, but said Mr Yanukovych was still the legitimate president.
The Russian president echoed other officials from his country by describing the transfer of power in Kiev as a military-backed coup.
He cautioned that the former Soviet nation was in the grip of chaos. "We are seeing the revelry of neo-Nazis, nationalists and anti-Semites," he said.
While highlighting alleged threats to ethnic Russians in Ukraine, the Kremlin has, since last week, been moving heavily armed troops in unmarked uniforms into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. But Mr Putin flatly denied there were any Russian soldiers on the ground and said that Russia had no plans to annex the peninsula. The armed men in Crimea are all local self-defence squads that have formed without any Kremlin assistance, he insisted.
"Just go into one of our shops and you can buy any uniform there," he said, when asked to explain why most of the armed men appeared to be wearing identical military fatigues.
He also commented on violence in Kiev during which more than 80 people, most of them demonstrators, were killed. He claimed it was unlikely that security forces were responsible, adding that it was probable the opposition hired snipers to kill its own activists. The president accused the West of using Mr Yanukovych's decision in November – to reject a pact with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia – to encourage the months of protests that drove him from power and put Ukraine's future in turmoil. (© Daily Telegraph, London)