Putin says Russia can use 'all means' in Ukraine
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and the commander of the Western Military District Anatoly Sidorov, right, walk upon arrival to watch military exercise near St.Petersburg, Russia, Monday, March 3, 2014. AP photoPresident Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday Russia had the right to use "all means" to protect its citizens in Ukraine but denied it had sent troops to Crimea, amid a Cold War-style standoff over the ex-Soviet state.
"We reserve the right to use all means to protect," Putin told reporters at his suburban Moscow residence in a briefing broadcast live on state television.
But he said there was currently "no need" to send troops into Ukraine, comments that appeared to reassure financial markets which have been on edge over fears of an armed conflict on the eastern edge of the European Union.
"There can only be one assessment of what happened in Kiev and Ukraine as a whole -- this was an anti-constitutional takeover and armed seizure of power," he added.
Yanukovych has no political future
Putin said that deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych had no political future but asserted he was legally still head of state.
"I think that he has no political future. And I told him this," Putin said in comments broadcast on state television, adding that Russia had offered sanctuary to Yanukovych for humanitarian reasons. He said earlier that Yanukovych was, however, still the "sole legitimate president of Ukraine".
'No Russian forces operating in Crimea'
Putin denied that Russian forces were operating in Crimea, saying that only "local forces of self-defence" were surrounding Ukrainian military bases in the region.
Asked if Russian forces took part in operations in Crimea he said, "No, they did not participate," adding: "There are lots of uniforms that look similar."
Ukraine's new authorities have said that several thousand Russian troops have poured into Crimea over the last days, in claims backed by Western officials.
However Putin portrayed the events that has seen armed men in unmarked uniforms seize several Ukrainian army bases in Crimea as an uprising by locals worried about the new authorities in Kiev.
Asked why the men are so well-equipped, Putin said that protesters in Kiev were also well equipped and worked "like clockwork".
"They worked... like special forces," he said. "Why should they not work as well in Crimea?"
"The Crimeans are very worried. For this reason they formed committees of self-defence and taken all armed forces under control."
"Thank God that this was done without a single shot and everything is in the hands of the Crimean people."