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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.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
oldmandowntown2 April 17 2014 at 11:46 AM

Putin flat out lied when first asked if those mysterious soldiers was Russian troops, and he said no. Now he trying to pull the same scam again, denying again those militant soldiers are Russian also. In his warped mind he still thinking the UK is part of Russia, even though it was handed over back in 1920's. The U.S. and all other country's doing business with China, should suspend all business with China immediately. If China wants to support Russia let it do so, but without doing any business with the U.S. and European country's. Once that is done, it wouldn't take long for China to realize who spreads their butter on their bread. I truly still don't understand why we as a free country, are doing business with China in the first place. Sure the WTA did open doors for U.S. company's to expand their businesses there, but it should never of been at the citizens of the U.S. expense. If they want to produce things in China for China or other communists country's have at it. But anything produced outside the U.S. should be heavily taxed up on entering this country. That alone would bring jobs and prosperity back to this country, and reduce our national debt. But as long as we have gold digging corrupt elected officials watching out for their best interests, instead of this country nothing will ever change. This country survived for hundreds of years without China before, but our greedy politicians don't see it that way. They don't want to lose those hefty campaign contributions come election time, from company's doing business over there and China's contribution also to their campaign. It's time we as American's stand up and say, enough is enough come election time. Then just maybe things will change, but not until that happens.

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ramonbatt oldmandowntown2 April 17 2014 at 12:18 PM

I give credit to Putin. He has taken action. The rest of the west? Including Obama have no clue! Russia has a leader who takes action when need it. He also is aware of the west doing nothing to protect Ukraine. That's why he send all the troops to stand ready. Where are all those EU and UN including us standing up to protect Ukraine? ZERO. Russia has to step in! Now have have to say. Putin is right and also very smart leader! EU UN United States gave the green light to Russia because they made it clear no military support for Ukraine!

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robsakes April 17 2014 at 10:17 PM

Time for the White House to give them another stern warning…

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almazstmp April 17 2014 at 12:27 PM

Ukrainian Nationalist past our government wants to downplay:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KS7CxfWLWIs

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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

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stevendy1 April 17 2014 at 12:26 PM

russia is heading downhill real fast,,their ruble just took a 20% drop, even before all the sanctions have been fully enforced..all the money from investors is also rapidly fleeing the country..China will only become the number # 1 economic country if we, the AMERICANS, continue to build them up and buy their goods..otherwise the U.S. stays no,# 1 for a bit longer..buy AMERICAN and deny china and russia...

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1 reply
Gene stevendy1 April 17 2014 at 12:31 PM

Buy American what??!! The Democrats and liberals have virtually shut down most blue collar industries. About the only thing America can produce anymore are the trinkets you win at carnivals. I just serviced a transmission. The filter was made in Viet Nam. God help us.

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ladyhawk2808j Gene April 17 2014 at 1:58 PM

Uh, duh, what about Romney and his corporations?? Oh, yeah and if my memory serves me correctly he is neither a dem or a lib........

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Welcome Justin April 17 2014 at 11:27 AM

Multiple times they say Putin admitted it was Russian troops in Crimea, yet they never quote him on it. Since they quoted him multiple other times, why did they not do so for that statement ? It would seem they are trying to possibly twist what he said to fit their propaganda. Furthermore, even if it was Russian troops in Crimea, then why is it ok for the US and EU to support violent rebellions and riots that overthrow a democratically elected gov, but not ok for Russia to support a secession -- backed by the local residents -- from that new gov without violence ?

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rocher54 Welcome Justin April 17 2014 at 12:12 PM

Crimea is Russian, get over it. Just like Guantanamo Bay is really Cuban.

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themealain April 17 2014 at 12:23 PM

there is one thing i like to know about Putin..what size bra does he wear?

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1 reply
Gracie GirL themealain April 17 2014 at 12:50 PM

:) Probably a 44 triple D and they have to be custom made.

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ladyhawk2808j Gracie GirL April 17 2014 at 1:50 PM

for him, his dog and horse!~

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frenchyfoof April 17 2014 at 11:58 AM

Not to worry... God's kingdom or heavenly government will soon replace all of man's corrupt, selfish and greedy governments (Daniel 2:44) and bring great blessings to meek persons of all nations in the near future (Psalms 37:10,11; Isaiah 11:1-9; Revelation 21:1-4).

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V I D E O frenchyfoof April 17 2014 at 12:16 PM

lol, I'll put my money on an asteroid before your god shows up.

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IRVING April 17 2014 at 11:26 AM

If only he was given the Nobel Prize for his work in Syria Putin would have retired a happy comrade.

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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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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.

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