“This is nonsense, there are no Russian troops in the east of Ukraine,” Vladimir Putin said at an annual Q&A session, adding that the Kiev government should talk to the local residents to tackle the problem, not send in tanks to deal with it.
"All the people that are in the eastern Ukraine are local residents, and the main proof is that they've taken their masks off - literally. It's their home, and they have nowhere to leave to," Putin stressed.
President also criticized the coup-imposed Kiev government's actions after it launched an anti-terror operation on Monday in the East of Ukraine.
“Instead of recognizing that something wrong is happening in the Ukrainian state and making an attempt to have dialogue, they started to threaten the people with force and went as far as moving their tanks and planes on to the civilian population. It’s another very serious crime by the Kiev leaders,” Putin said. The Russian president said the Kiev government should negotiate with those people, not with their henchmen, he added.
On the subject of the presence of Russian troops in Crimea prior to the referendum in March, Putin maintained they were there to prevent the escalation of the situation and any provocations. Furthermore, the Russian President said reports that Russian troops are elsewhere in Ukraine are unfounded.
Answering a question by an ex-Berkut - Ukrainian special forces - commander as to whether the ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has always been such a “weakling and traitor,” Putin said that Yanukovich did his duty as he thought possible and necessary.
“I’ve spoken with him, certainly, many times, during the crisis, and after he arrived in the Russian Federation, and we talked about using force… The gist of his answer was that he, as he told me, thought about using force many times, but he, as he said, didn’t have the heart to sign an act that would see force used against his citizens,” Putin said.
Asked if it was possible that a limited contingent of Russian troops could be deployed in eastern Ukraine or whether the Aviation Forces could be used there, Putin stressed that one shouldn’t fall into euphoria after the situation in Crimea and that he hopes for political solution for the crisis.
The factor of force has vital importance in international affairs, but states should look for compromise before resorting to it, Putin said.
“The point is that with the understanding how important the force is, the states could develop and strengthen reasonable behavior rules in the international arena,” he said.
Speaking on the subject of the increase in tensions between Russia and the US following the integration of Crimea into Russia, Putin said relations had started to deteriorate long before then.
Referring to the 2009 “Reset” in relations, Putin said the agreement ended after the US and NATO intervened in Libya and plunged the country into chaos.
“We believe this is not our fault. This double-standard approach always disappoints us. Behaving like the US did in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya is allowed, but Russia is not allowed to protect its interests,” said Putin. He added that Russia was not trying to sour its relations with the EU and hopes this feeling is reciprocated.
President Putin held his annual Q&A session with the Russian
people on Thursday, amid record approval ratings. He spoke for
almost four hours and answered 85 questions, falling shy of his
record of four hours and forty eight minutes.
The Q&A session comes as 71 percent Russians say they trust Putin completely or almost completely.
The majority of questions come from pensioners. The second place is occupied by people from 35 to 55 years old. Some of those who called just said they wanted to support the president and his position on Ukraine, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.