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Putin admits Russian soldiers were in Crimea, slams West for role in Ukraine crisis

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected claims that Russian special forces are fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, but recognized for the first time that the troops in unmarked uniforms who had overtaken Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula before its annexation by Moscow were Russian soldiers.

Putin expressed hope for a political and diplomatic solution of the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War, saying he hopes that he won't have to send Russian troops into eastern Ukraine, which has been engulfed by violent protests against the new authorities in Kiev. He poured scorn at the West, accusing it of trying to weaken and isolate Russia and made it starkly clear that he doesn't fear further Western sanctions.

Speaking in a televised call-in show with the nation, Putin harshly criticized the West for trying to pull Ukraine into its orbit and said that people in eastern Ukraine have risen against the authorities in Kiev, who ignored their rights and legitimate demands.

A wave of protests, which Ukraine and the West said was organized by Russia and involved Russian special forces, have swept eastern Ukraine over the past weeks, with gunmen seizing government offices and police stations in at least 10 cities.

"It's all nonsense, there are no Russian units, special services or instructors in the east of Ukraine," Putin said.

At the same time, he recognized for the first time that soldiers in unmarked uniforms - dubbed "little green men" - who swept Ukraine's Black Sea region of Crimea laying the ground for its annexation by Moscow last month were Russian troops.

Putin, who previously said the troops were part of local self-defense forces, said the Russian soldiers' presence was necessary to protect the local population from armed radicals and to ensure the holding of a referendum, in which an overwhelming majority of its residents voted for seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia.

But asked on Thursday who the men in unmarked uniforms were, Putin said they were Russian servicemen who "stood behind the back of Crimea's self-defense forces."

"They acted politely, but resolutely and professionally," he said. "There was no other way to hold the referendum in an open, honest and honorable way and allow the people to express their opinion."

He said part of the motives behind the annexation of Crimea was the need to counter what he said was NATO's intention to make Ukraine a member and sharply limit Russia's presence in the Black Sea region.

Putin insisted that protests in the east of Ukraine only involve locals. He denounced the Ukrainian authorities' decision to use the military to uproot the protests in the east as a "grave crime," adding that he told his Western counterparts urging him to help disarm protesters in the east that the Ukrainian government should first pull the army back.

"They are sending tanks, armored personnel carriers and cannons there!" he said. "Have they gone nuts?"

He expressed hope for the success of Thursday's talks in Geneva that bring together the United States, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine for the first time since the Ukrainian crisis erupted.

"I think the start of today's talks is very important, as it's very important now to think together about how to overcome this situation and offer a real dialogue to the people," Putin said.

Russia has demanded that the new government in Kiev, which replaced the ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych who fled to Russia following protests over his decision to spike a pact with the EU in favor of closer ties with Russia, move to transform the country into a loose federation. Ukraine has rejected the demand, but promised to give the regions more powers.

Putin repeated his argument that regions in eastern Ukraine historically had been part of the Russian empire and called Novorossiya before they were handed over to Ukraine by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s.

"God knows why," he said.

But he also seemed to keep the door open for Russia to recognize Ukraine's presidential election set for May 25, softening his previous demand that it must be postponed until the fall and preceded by a referendum on broader powers for the regions. He added that the primary goal is to ensure that people in the east should be offered clear guarantees of the protection of their rights.

Putin maintained a tough stance on the gas price to Ukraine, which Russia has hiked 80 percent since Yanukovych's ouster and warned that Moscow will start requesting advance payments for gas shipped to Ukraine in one month if it fails to reach agreement on settling its debts.

Putin also urged Ukraine to reopen trade and transportation routes into Moldova's separatist province of Trans-Dniester. Russia and the Trans-Dniester authorities say that the Ukrainians have blocked transport routes to the region. Moldova has frozen ties with Trans-Dniester since the 1992 war.

Putin has dodged a question about whether Moscow could accept Trans-Dniester's request for the recognition of its independence.

Facing questions about more Western penalties to follow the first rounds of sanctions over the annexation of Crimea, Putin sought to assuage fears they could cripple Russia's vital energy sector. He said that the EU will be unable to do without Russian natural gas supplies, and it would be hard for the U.S. to hurt Russia by encouraging a drop in oil prices.

"They badly want to bite us, but their opportunities are limited," Putin said.

He also took a video question from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, whom Russia granted asylum last year. Asked by Snowden about Russia's surveillance programs, Putin said that Russian special services also tap on communications in their fight against terrorism, but don't do it on such a massive scale as the U.S.

He said that Russia will further develop ties with China, a natural ally which he said is set to become the world's No. 1 economic power.

While offering scathing criticism of the West, Putin said that Russia hopes that ties will eventually normalize and insisted that Moscow has no intention to draw a new Iron Curtain.

He even tried to infuse a bit of warmth to the chill over Ukraine, picking up a question from a six-year old girl who asked if he thinks President Barack Obama will come to rescue him if he was drowning.

"He's a decent and brave man, he would do it," Putin said.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
almazstmp April 17 2014 at 1:38 PM

What's wrong with you people. This is who we are siding with now. They are very proud of their past.

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Camp Bulldog April 17 2014 at 11:38 AM

Yes the big word here seems to be MUSLIMS

You went to a "war" over Libya. (No one has figured that out yet) . To dispose of its President who was very active in fighting terrorism. Only to watch him be executed by his captives in the field.
Many of the West want to send arms to Al Qaeda fighting for the Syrian Rebels....The US even sent a few destroyers...armed and ready.

Not to mention all the aid sent to Yemen...Egypt...on & on

And lets not forget the Bosnian war.

Yep! Muslims is the deal breaker.

Why have the Subjects (you are no longer 'citizens') of the American Government decided to ally their Nation so close to the Muslim World?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
rgc1946ronald Camp Bulldog April 17 2014 at 12:13 PM

Food for thought !

Flag Reply 0 rate up
hwrsuzy April 17 2014 at 11:38 AM

Both Governemnts, ours and the Russians, lie to their constituents so often we don't know who to believe. I do know this bit doesn't deserve another American life..too many have been lost over the years for people that openly hate us. We still give them aid..still are losing our young troops for those comfortable politicians in Washington...

Flag Reply +4 rate up
silverplume55 April 18 2014 at 1:14 AM

For all of you who think Putin is such a great President maybe you should pack your bags and go live in Russia with the tyrannical leader!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
nascarracingis1 April 17 2014 at 1:20 PM

That's the way to show support. Bash your pres. So American. But you know we act like our parent so we all must be just like our pres idiots as far as you claim IDIOT. I didn't support bush but I wouldn't let our enimies know that.

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1 reply
mantoll nascarracingis1 April 17 2014 at 1:31 PM

Bush was an idiot by going into Iraq but this president will cause more harm to this country and its people then Bush did.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Camp Bulldog April 17 2014 at 11:40 AM

My Advice to the Ukraine Government.... put Remote controlled charges on all the pipelines running through your Country. And the Soviets have plenty of them feeding all of Europe.
Put you finger on the button. Go attack the traitors in your country...kill them...capture them..
Tell the Soviets...If they set one foot into your borders...you will destroy the fuel distribution system.

And then watch the attention from Europe...the Soviets...

Even the US.

You will have your finger on the economy of the world.

Now....put yourself in Putin's shoes. And the Leaders of Europe...USA...

Knowing I will do as I say...and it would take years to restore the system.....What would you want to do???? How much would you chance?

To the Ukraine Government...

Unless you go into it prepared to loose EVERYTHING.....you have lost before you began.

Deterents are not always military...such as Nucs...

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
rgc1946ronald Camp Bulldog April 17 2014 at 11:51 AM

Reduce your caffeine level asap.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
gg77bay April 17 2014 at 11:40 AM

"When people are lost and burden down down with loads if sin..there is no rest. Putin could turn it around , it seems he does not want to get along with his own people in his country. He will fall under God's Judgment and he will have a terrible ending. He must change his entire attitude and seek God.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Bruce April 17 2014 at 12:17 PM

Putin is rofl because he knows that anyone who is important has already ditched Washington DC for the Easter weekend.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Dickhead April 17 2014 at 1:09 PM

have you seen the homes urkraines gov has built with the peoples money while the people strugle to survive.i dont blame the people for standing up and demanding russia to help them.stay out of the conflict usa.they can handle it on there own.it will come out in the wash

Flag Reply +6 rate up
Linda April 17 2014 at 1:23 PM

Putin is tryi g to rebuild the soviet union.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
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