Events in Ukraine a coup: Putin (Roundup)

Moscow/Kiev, March 4: Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday said what happened in Ukraine could only be described as an anti-constitutional coup and armed seizure of power even as a delegation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) arrived in Kiev Tuesday to monitor the security situation in Ukraine.

During a live interview with a local news channel, Putin said that by the time of signing the agreement with the opposition Feb 21, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych had in effect given up his power, Xinhua reported.

“I told him he had no chances to be reelected. So I don’t understand why the opposition needs to seize power by force,” Putin noted, adding that Yanukovych remains the sole legitimate president of Ukraine, although he has no power.

Putin said Yanukovych would have been killed if Russia did not give him refuge, and Moscow did so “on humanitarian motives”.

According to Putin, Russia received direct request from Yanukovych about military assistance.

“If we’ll see lawlessness in the eastern regions, we reserve the right to use all means to protect these people,” Putin said, though he stressed that it would be the last resort.

“Our armed forces are brothers in arms, many officers know each other personally. I’m sure Russian and Ukrainian troops will be on the same side, like it has been happening in Crimea,” Putin added.

As for the situation in Ukraine’s autonomous republic of Crimea, the epicentre of the ongoing crisis, Putin said Russia encouraged protection of its military facilities there, and Moscow did it “timely and right.”

Meanwhile, Moscow was not considering Crimea’s accession to Russia and would not encourage such sentiments, he said. Only Crimeans themselves have to decide their own future, he added.

Asked by reporters whether he was concerned by the fact that sending Russian troops to Ukraine might trigger a war, Putin said Moscow would not go to war with Ukrainian people.

The president also warned that Western countries need to think twice before making the decision to impose sanctions against Russia.

“Those who are going to impose sanctions must think first, as the harm will be mutual in the modern world,” Putin said, adding if Western leaders did not want to attend the Group of Eight (G8) summit scheduled in June in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, they were free not to do so.

According to the Russian leader, Moscow is ready to disburse new tranche of financial aid to Kiev, but its Western partners are asking it not to do so for now.

“They are asking us about working together in the framework of the IMF in order to get the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian authorities to conduct the reforms needed to revive the economy,” he said.

Meanwhile, an OSCE delegation arrived in Kiev Tuesday to monitor the security circumstances in Ukraine, with special focus on Crimea.

“In the soonest time, the OSCE mission will go to the Crimea to monitor the situation in the peninsula, near our military units,” Xinhua quoted Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council Secretary Andriy Parubiy as telling reporters.

The situation near the Ukrainian-Russian border in Crimea was complex, but stable, Parubiy said, adding that there was no substantial intensification of frontier crossing.

The OSCE “advance team” was sent to Ukraine to monitor the security situation in the country’s eastern and southern regions and “provide neutral facts and a true assessment of facts on the ground”.

According to another report earlier in the day from Moscow, the Kremlin said President Putin has ordered forces engaged in military drills to return to their permanent bases.

Presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov told the media that Putin, also the supreme commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, made the decision after watching the final stage of the exercises at the Kirillovsky range in the Leningrad region Monday, Xinhua reported.

Moscow denied last week that the large-scale drills were linked to the crisis in Ukraine, with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu saying Saturday the snap drills were aimed at checking the military’s combat readiness.

IANS