Barack Obama mocks Moscow's Ukraine adventure
RAW VISION: US President Barack Obama ridicules the reasoning behind the decision of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to send the military into Crimea.PT1M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-345om 620 349 March 5, 2014
Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his first comments since the crisis in Ukraine boiled over, said on Tuesday that he saw no reason for Russia's army to intervene in eastern Ukraine at the moment, but left open the possibility of military action, saying that Russia "reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect" Russian speakers in the country's south and east if they are in danger.
"We are not going to fight with the Ukrainian people," he said. "I want you to understand me clearly. If we make such a decision, it will only be for the protection of Ukrainian citizens. And God forbid if any of the servicemen tries to shoot their own people, we will be standing behind them - not in front, but behind. Let them try to shoot women and children!"
Angry at US meddling in Ukraine ... Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a news conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow. Photo: Reuters
Speaking defiantly at an hour-long, unscripted news conference in Moscow at which he described events in Ukraine as an "unconstitutional coup," Putin denied that Russian troops had occupied Crimea and laid blame for the crisis on the United States, which he said had interfered in Ukraine "from across the pond in America as if they were sitting in a laboratory and running experiments on rats, without any understanding of the consequences."
Clearly furious, Putin delivered a version of the crisis almost entirely at odds with the view held by most officials in Europe and the United States, as well as by many Ukrainians. He described anti-government protests in Kiev as an "orgy" of radicals and nationalists, noting a swastika armband that he had glimpsed in images of the crowd. He also insisted that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych had never ordered security forces to shoot protesters, suggesting that snipers stationed on rooftops "may have been provocateurs from opposition parties."
Putin said Yanukovych's fatal mistake had been to order security forces to withdraw from the site of the protests after days of bloodshed, while the sides were engaged in negotiations, and that he had warned him not to do so. He said Russia had then stepped in to assist Yanukovych, but did so for humanitarian reasons, "because death is the simplest way to get rid of the legitimate president, and it would have happened. I think he would have been probably killed."
Tense exchange ... Colonel Yuli Mamchor (C-R), commander of the Ukrainian military garrison at the Belbek airbase, and a colleague bearing the regiment flag, confront troops under Russian command occupying the Belbek airbase in Crimea. Warning shots were fired by the pro-Russian forces as they approached. Photo: Getty Images
And he expressed confidence that the crisis would not boil over into war, because, as he put it, Ukrainian and Russian soldiers are "brothers in arms."
"I am convinced that Ukrainian personnel and Russian personnel will not be on different sides of the barricades, they will be on the same side of the barricades," he said. "There has not been a shot fired in Crimea. The tense situation in Crimea, related to the possibility of the use of force, has been exhausted. There was no necessity of that."
The Kremlin leader took issue with Western threats of reprisals, including sanctions and a boycott of the meeting of the Group of Eight industrial nations that is scheduled to be held in Russia.
"All threats against Russia are counterproductive and harmful," he said, according to Reuters, adding that Russia was ready to host the G-8 but Western leaders who did not want to attend "don't need to."
Putin acknowledged that had met two days ago with Yanukovych, saying he was "safe and sound" and dismissing rumours that the ousted Ukrainian president had died of a heart attack.
The Russian President's remarks came after the scheduled end of a military exercise he ordered in western Russia near Ukraine's border last week, telling military units that participated to return to their permanent garrisons.
There was no indication that Putin's move presaged any easing of a crisis that has raised Western fears that the region may be spinning toward a broader conflict. Tension remained high in Crimea, where Russian troops are blockading Ukrainian military facilities in what the authorities in Kiev have called a declaration of war.
He denied that military personnel in unmarked uniforms who now control much of Crimea are Russian forces, describing them instead as "local defense forces."
"Look at the people who were operating in Kiev - they were very well trained at special camps in Poland and Lithuania, they were trained by special structures," he said. "Why do you think that the self-defence forces in Crimea should be any less professional?"
He said Russia is not considering annexing Crimea, but said Crimean citizens should be allowed to determine their own future, presumably as part of Russia or Ukraine.
"We are not considering this possibility," he said. "It's up to people living in a certain territory, if they can exercise their free will, and determine their future. For example, if Kosovo's Albanians were allowed to do that, self-determination, which according to UN documents is a right, but we will never instigate it, never support such trends."
"Only the people who live in a certain territory have the right to decide their own future," he said.
But in a graphic illustration of the standoff and its potential hazards, Russian troops on Tuesday fired warning shots in the air as approximately 200 unarmed Ukrainian soldiers approached Russian positions on the perimeter of the contested Belbek airfield in Crimea to press demands to return to their positions there and conduct joint patrols.
Russia might abandon dollar
In Moscow, the Kremlin responded to US warnings of economic punishment and isolation for its actions in Crimea with a counterthreat that Moscow might abandon the dollar as a reserve currency and refuse to repay loans to US banks, Reuters reported. The warning came from Sergei Glazyev, a Kremlin aide with limited influence over the formulation of a policy but boasting a reputation for staking out hard-line positions, the news agency said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to meet with the fledgling Ukrainian leadership that forced Yanukovych to flee to Russia last month as the crisis deepened. He will be the highest-ranking Western official to meet the administration, signalling the Obama administration's support for a government that the Kremlin does not recognise.
The Russian military exercise coincided with the deployment of Russian special forces troops to Crimea beginning last Friday, though officials maintained it was not directly related to the conflict in Ukraine. Nothing the Kremlin reported on Tuesday suggested that the Russian operations in Crimea would end.
The military exercise involved the mobilisation of the entire Western Military District, which stretches from the border of Ukraine to the Arctic, as well as units from the Central Military District, the Baltic Fleet and air defence commands. The troops dispatched to Ukraine are reported to have deployed from ports and airfields in the Southern Military District.
Putin ordered the mobilisation only days before Russian forces began spreading through Crimea, and despite officials' reassurances to the contrary, the timing and scale of the operations had a palpable message. Putin attended the culmination of the exercises near St. Petersburg on Monday, appearing in state television reports observing live-fire training involving tanks and helicopters.
The Kremlin announced the end of the manoeuvres - which involved 150,000 troops, as well as air and naval forces and live-fire demonstrations in several Russian bases - and reported that they had been "successfully carried out".
The New York Times