Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the face of international pressure and protest, claims that the Russian forces who have moved into Ukraine are not Russian troops but instead are pro-Russian “local forces of self-defense.”
But while Putin makes that claim, one of the troops told the BBC that he was “a Russian soldier, based usually in Sevastopol.” Sevastopol is a Ukraine city located on the Black Sea coast of the Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine claims that 16,000 Russian troops have arrived in Crimea in recent days.
While the U.S. and Europe have accused Putin of invading Ukraine, Putin said there isn’t yet a need to send troops into Ukraine.
Putin said during a news conference that Russia had a presence in Ukraine to offer stability. He said the toppling of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych last month following mass protests was an “anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power.”
Though Ukraine’s parliament voted to impeach Yanukovych on Feb. 22, Putin said he was still the legitimate president. He said Yanukovych had been brought to Russia for his safety, “otherwise he’d just have been killed.”
“I don’t think he has a political future,” said Putin, who added that Ukraine was in “chaos” with “nationalists” and “anti-Semites” roaming the streets of Kiev and other cities.
If Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine asked for Russia’s help, or if there were signs of anarchy, “we reserve the right to use all means,” he said, going on to accuse the West of encouraging the street protests.
When asked by the BBC reporter whether he thought it was right for Russia to blockade Ukrainian bases, the Russian soldier replied: “If you ask me as a person, then no, it’s not right. But I’m following orders.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has rushed to Kiev, where he is trying to use intensive diplomatic efforts to resolve the escalating crisis.
Kerry said Ukraine had entered a “new phase” of its struggle for freedom and he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Kerry condemned Russian aggression, saying there was no need for Moscow to pursue military action rather than diplomacy if it was concerned about its citizens.
If Russia chose to ignore appeals to pull back its forces, the US and its partners would have “no choice” but to seek to further “isolate Russia, politically, diplomatically and economically,” Kerry said.
Kerry also brought with him an offer of a $1 billion U.S. aid package to help ease Ukraine’s looming financial crisis.